• Sustainable Stupidity in Hawaii

    July 18, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Economy, Other Ideas


    Who is making the cascading series of bad decisions about tourism and why are they determined to damage the Number 2 industry in Hawaii? With over a year’s pause to review things like sustainability and overuse why are we only now having such conversations even as we drift from problem to problem?

    Tourism is a part of our islands same as the ocean and volcanos. It won’t go away, should not go away if we wish for people to have jobs, and properly managed creates little pollution and lots of revenue alongside a lot of jobs, from restaurant servers to corporate executives. Let’s look at how that has worked out in the hands of incompetent leadership.

    -Hawaii is the only state still with COVID entrance requirements. Their ever-changing nature has created confusion in the marketplace. It is easier for visitors to go somewhere else. The crisis has passed yet Hawaii’s government alone clings to its emergency powers.

    -Once in Hawaii, the visitor is subject to the last remaining set of comprehensive restrictions, also ever-changing. Rules on masks and gatherings fall into 42 different categories and run dozens and dozens of pages. There are separate rules for botanical gardens and bowling alleys. No one can follow them all, and so visitors are assaulted with constant and often conflicting pleas to cooperate. Even the mayor of Honolulu admits they are unenforceable.

    -The ever-changing rules on how many people may gather indoors/outdoor are a death sentence to big-money tourism such as weddings, Asian group tours, and conventions. These need to be planned months or even years in advance, and can in one decision brings hundreds of visitors in. What planner is ready to trust Hawaii to have the same rules in place a year from now (Delta variant!) as today?

    -Same for other events planners. Concert promoters looking to fill arenas once again said Tier 5 does not do much for them. Rick Bartalini, the promoter who recently brought Mariah Carey and Diana Ross to the Blaisdell said, “Tier 5 is not a realistic solution to reopen the large scale event industry in the state of Hawaii.”

    -The latest rules, which appear to require restaurants to verify vaccination status before seating guests, are so ridiculous major restaurants are simply (finally) refusing to comply. They protest turning their hosts into “cops” and scaring away customers. Never mind the ridiculousness of demanding a minimum wage server check to see if a COVID test was the proper molecular type before reading the day’s specials. Coupled with the labor shortage which makes reservations hard to get, why would a visitor want to try a night out?

    -Why would a visitor want to try a night out when bars are still required to stop serving at midnight (is COVID more active after dark?!?) super fun beach vacation, guys.

    -In their arrogance, leaders of the state House and Senate said the summer surge in tourists shows that Hawaii no longer needs to be marketed as a tourist destination. They then fundamentally changed the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s funding and left its future uncertain. While Hawaii may be the only product in history which requires no advertising, competitor New York City launched a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign. Florida has numerous advertising campaigns underway, including a $2 million one focused on Orlando alone.

    -COVID restrictions saw tourism disappear, and car rental companies sold off their inventory such that visitors can’t find a car, and the news is running features on people renting U-Hauls to visit the North Shore. A rental car company fails to renew a car registration? The HPD tickets the tourist who rented it so they can tell their friends at home how to expect to be treated.

    -Uber and Lyft sent their prices skyrocketing. Local people stepped up and started renting out their own vehicles to solve the shortage and make visitors happy. The state’s move? Tax the new business to death, same as AirBnB, in hopes of protecting the old brick and mortar firms who have fewer customers anyway because of the government’s COVID shenanigans. If that play seems familiar, it was a version of the one used to sink the SuperFerry and push intra-island travel money into the airlines’ hands. Or the one which quickly ended Lime’s electric scooters, which remain popular as a traffic solution across the country, just somehow not in Hawaii.

    -How to get to your hotel from the airport? Well, the HART will be completed in approximately… never. The Bus does not allow luggage. So as in most third world airports the tired traveler starts his journey being overcharged for a taxi or car.

    -Hawaii has never been a budget destination, but taxes and costs for visitors keep climbing, and will reach a point where they consider other options. For visitors settling into a traditional hotel room, there’s a 10.25% Occupancy/Transient Accommodation Tax, followed by the 4.712% State Tax. Most places now stack on a “resort fee” of $35-50, plus usurious parking fees of $30-40 a night. The state’s move post-COVID? Grab more of the existing hotel tax for itself, and allow the counties to add on their own 3% tax. The final price for a room can easily double for guests.

    -Meanwhile, because of COVID and at those prices, most hotels won’t change the towels or bed sheets during a stay. Then wait until visitors find out must-see Hanauma Bay is now $25 a person plus $10 parking if they can even pry a reservation away from the tour companies. Diamond Head is headed the same way.

    -The operations manager for Roberts Hawaii, the agency hired by the state to handle Safe Travels screening and verify documents summed up Hawaii’s image today, saying “People gonna vent, aggravated, not prepared, in shock after spending so much money. People got to accept these changes, it is challenge, it is a challenge to come to Hawaii.”

    We’re seeing now the influx of visitors due to pent up demand. What happens next? Nobody knows when it will all become just too much and visitors will go elsewhere,  but Hawaii seems determined to push the boundaries. Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth worries. “We’re going to add another tax to our tourists and actually that’s a gamble whether the tourists are going to come back.”

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Hawaii Held Hostage

    July 18, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Economy

    We are being held hostage to a number. Hawaii is the last and only state with COVID entry requirements. Hawaii is the last and only state with broad COVID rules for fully vaccinated people. Hawaii is the last state and only state with emergency powers still granted its governor. Our economy is dependent on a series of one-time Federal handouts and our unemployment is among the nation’s highest. Our freedom is being held hostage by Governor Ige to an arbitrary number.

    Ige is holding to vaccinating 70% of Hawaii residents before dropping the majority of the state’s COVID-related restrictions. That number is wholly arbitrary and backed by no science. There is nothing to say 70 matters more than 65 or 89. In addition, the number employs a sleight-of-hand; since the governor insists it must be 70% of the total population, not the population eligible for the vaccine, the actual count is going to have to be much higher. With young children ineligible for the vaccine, we are actually talking about 70% of a subset of the population.

    Left entirely out of the clown car calculus is that 5% of the community already has COVID immunity because they contracted and survived the virus.

    The other sleight-of-hand is most people who want to be vaccinated already are, around 58%. Supply of the vaccine is plentiful. Anyone who wants it can walk in to clinics, Longs, pop-up sites, and the like. All the corny incentives — free food, airplane miles, admission to the zoo — have run their course. The pace of vaccinations has fallen 75% since early May, according to Hawaii Department of Health figures. The CDC predicts the rest of America, now open for business and a full life, won’t reach 70% until sometime next year. We may be stuck below 70% indefinitely.

    That in turn lead Ige to extend his emergency powers, which were set to expire August 6. He also said he will maintain the state’s indoor mask mandate, despite guidance issued a month ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks in the vast majority of settings.

    It seems of little interest that in the midst of all this Honolulu dropped 42 spots on a popular “Best Places to Live” ranking. US News & World Report tallied the city’s ranking crashing to 113 out of 150 of the most populous metro areas in the country. The biggest factors are our COVID-battered economy and high unemployment rate. Honolulu also ranked poorly in value, quality of life, and net migration, i.e., people are leaving.

    When I brought up this fall to a highly unscientifically gathered group of local people who would listen to me at a coffee shop, their response was universal. Great, they said, tell outsiders to stay away. Tell tourists they’re not wanted. Maybe some of the rich mainlanders driving up home prices will move out, too. “Aloha” now seems better translated as insular and frightened of the outside world than anything welcoming.

    Outside of the business community people in Hawaii seem just fine with COVID-excuse restrictions extending deep into the future. They shortsightedly like the idea people may not want to visit here, live here, or stay here. People have become rescue dogs.

    COVID tapped into something deep and dark inside of many islanders, a fear of outsiders dating back to Captain Cook, and has turned too many of us into a nation of Momos. Momo is my rescue dog. She jumps at noises and shivers uncontrollably when I pull my belt from my pants at night. She invents new fears all the time — out of nowhere today it was a spray can rattle; last week it was the coffee machine beep. Momo never gets back to normal. She is terrified of strangers and does not even enjoy her walks. Best for her to get the business over with within sight of our front door to get back inside that much faster.

    I don’t think most dogs are self-aware enough for suicide, but Momo might be. Before we got the right kind of leash, she would slip off and dart into traffic. There were some close calls. For a dog afraid of everything, she has no fear of being run over. So you tell me, because one definition of suicide seems to fit: fearing the consequences of living more than those of dying.

    Momo knows there are bears in the woods. But her fears have gotten the better of her and she can’t separate the real dangers from the rustle of leaves in the wind. Soon enough, the grass near the woods has gotten too close and before you know it’s better to just stay on the couch, alongside the rest of Hawaii.

    We reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, with every story reported with a flashlight held under the announcer’s chin. It seemed as though we needed to be the victim, a nation of special needs people who all have to board first. And don’t forget how overprotected we want to be, wiping down the gym like we’re prepping for surgery, reading the daily COVID count each morning before coffee, dressing like bad cosplayers with ineffectual soggy cloth masks. This fetish of imagined fears doesn’t stop reality so much as it leaves us poorly prepared to deal with it.

    Our leaders seem content to hold us hostage to our fears for their own purposes. For many of us, however, it is time for a change. What are you afraid of?

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • The Taxman as Progressive Hero: The Latest Trump Prosecution

    July 17, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump

    Political prosecutions are not new in America but political pograms are. It is sad to watch the Democratic party embrace such third world practices as policy. It is sadder to note there has never in history been a more sustained yet unsuccessful effort to oust or destroy one man.

    Even before Donald Trump took office Democrats claimed Russia elected him, the Manchurian Candidate. The intelligence community-Democratic Party-media tripartite axis then swung for the fences, using wiretaps obtained through FISA fraud, honeytraps, Australian and Israeli cutouts, intel scrubbed by GHQ, and every other trick in the spy biz.

    They came up so empty-handed even a Deep State O.G. like Robert Mueller could not find anything indictable. Mueller is a forgotten hero, knowing he had nothing and willing to let his legacy be just that, a fade to black, rather than be remembered as the guy who took a dump on the rule of law. You won’t see such courage in failure again; keep reading.

    Despite their beat down over Russiagate’s failed putsch, post-Mueller the Democrats almost immediately set out to impeach Trump on much of nothing. An anonymous whistleblower was planted and then dug up among the intel community, and impeachment hearings kicked off with the speed of a pre-fabbed garage erection. A long string of State Department clones and one sad-sack warrior-bureaucrat basically said they didn’t care for Trump’s Ukraine policy, so let’s impeach him. The whole thing collapsed because a) there was no impeachable offense and b) the more Democrats rooted in the sty for evidence against Trump the more they kept ending up with the Joe and Hunter Biden Ukraine scandal in front of them.

    Not content with one failed impeachment, the Democrats impeached Trump a second time, as a private citizen after he had left office. The set up was to exaggerate unorganized vandalism at the Capitol on January 6 into a full-on coup attempt. Left out was that the vandals had no path whatsoever to overturning the election, were quickly chased out of the building, and just went home. The faux Reichstag moment was then pasted onto Trump’s back like a Kick Me sign in full defiance of the speech-as-incitement rules set by the Supreme Court. A silly show trial failed again.

    In the background were political prosecution attempts so pathetic they never made it to full-failure: the Emolument Clause cases, Stormy Daniels, all things Michael’s Avannati and Cohen, E. Jean Carroll’s rape-cum-defamation case, that one so egregiously lousy even the Biden DOJ took Trump’s side, 25th Amendment shenanigans, plus all the sideshow accusations against Trump family members, including incest. The Southern District of New York leading the current case already failed in 2012 to indict Trump’s children and failed to prosecute Paul Manafort. All the smoking guns fired blanks.

     

    But why quit now? The state and city of New York just filed criminal fraud charges against Trump CFO Allen Weisselberg and the Trump Organization for failing to pay taxes on fringe benefits such as lodging and transportation offered to Weisselberg. Most of the alleged acts took place years ago, before Trump was even president.

    Feel bad for the poor CNN intern whose weekend was ruined after being told to read through New York tax code and “look for dirt.” What he’ll find is a complex mess of taxable and non-taxable fringe benefits. For example, a company car is not taxable when used for business trips but is taxable, on a per mile basis, when used to commute.  You’re supposed to keep records. That of course is unless you elect to use the ALV rule, or if the fair market value exceeds set amounts in the year the vehicle was assigned. Imagine the jury spending days sorting this out only then to also be asked to assess intent; did the Trump Organization intend to commit criminal fraud by mistakenly applying the cents-per-mile standard instead of the ALV? No proven intent means no criminal conviction. And when you’re done with that, members of the jury, move on to the equally dense text covering fringe benefits such as lodging, tuition, and parking.

    The sad thing is all of this is usually dealt with via a tax bill and perhaps an administrative penalty — the point in every previous (non-Trump) case was simply for the state to collect the tax revenue owed. Even NYT admitted it is “highly unusual to indict a company for failing to pay payroll taxes on fringe benefits alone.” But in this case and this case alone prosecutors went further, criminalizing the affair claiming it was intentional fraud. That raised the specter of jail time, and sent the case into the headlines where it was supposed to be for maximum political impact.

    As for the jail time, that is designed specifically to pressure the only person actually accused of anything here, Trump accountant Allen Weisselberg, age 73, to trade dirt on Donald Trump for leniency in his golden years. Amid all the tiresome Godfather cliches is the certainty there has to be more, and that Weisselberg knows everything. For those tracking third world touch points, ask yourself how that all looks, the full power of the government being screwed against the aged Weisselberg for the sole purpose of coercing him to testify against his will. If they’d used wooden clubs to beat him instead of law books we would call it torture, Gitmo-style: You must know something and I’m gonna beat you until you tell me.

    That one of the key prosecution witnesses is Weisselberg’s son’s now-divorced acrimonious wife is only where questions raised will begin. The defense, in explaining the blatant political nature of the case, will no doubt ask why here and why now. Some of the alleged infractions go back 15 years. Why didn’t the state, or the IRS, uncover any of this during all that time? The IRS has had the Trump Organization under audit since 2010 yet somehow never noticed a thing? Why is this prosecution only happening at the state level in Democratic New York, safe from the federal level where it could more clearly backfire on Biden? And by the way, did multi-millionaire Trump CFO Weisselberg himself sit down each year with a copy of TurboTax to do his own taxes? If not, why isn’t his accountant on trial? The uber question of course is since these tax cases have to everyone’s knowledge solely been handled as administrative matters in recent memory, why in this case alone are criminal charges stacked on?

    Of course since this indictment is the result of over a year of investigation by both state and city attorneys general and involved two trips to the Supreme Court, the amount of money in question must be H-U-G-E. Except it is not. The government says the total amount of undeclared benefits over a 15 year period is $1.7 million. Assuming it is all truly taxable, at a 20 percent tax rate that’s $22k a year. To rubes like you and me it sounds like a lot but seriously friends, it is not. Democrats are also counting on voters to agree there is no crime in New York otherwise deserving of the resources used in this case.

     

    Of course the MSM is a twitter claiming this is just the tip of the iceberg, that Weisselberg with flip, the walls are closing in, etc.  Don’t believe it. You heard all that before with Russiagate and two impeachments and it amounted to zilch. And as with Russiagate, if the prosecutors actually had something real to work with (i.e., Trump was a Russian spy, here’s the evidence) they would have led with that, not some piddle of a complex tax case. But Al Capone! Yes, mobster Al Capone went to jail on tax evasion, but that was based on his failing to file any Federal taxes at all for eleven consecutive years on income fully illegally obtained to include murder for hire. Not quite the same thing here.

    In the end the “jury” which really matters here is not the one who’ll like assign some sort of tax penalty against Weisselberg. The real jury will be the voters, because even if Trump does not run he will be a kingmaker. There are of course those True Blues who live to see Trump disemboweled on TV by progressives wearing George Floyd masks and celebrate any misfortune. But if purple voters come to see this prosecution as petty and vengeful, realizing the offenses occurred long before Trump was president and were overlooked until they could be used as political cudgels, the risk is in making Trump a martyr.  Wait for him saying at his next rally “I told you they were unfair and now look at this.” Meanwhile Dems are trying to make a people’s hero out of… the taxman? Coupled with Biden’s crumbling agenda, it is a bad spin heading into midterms. Trump is not going to jail and anything less than that makes him stronger.

    This level of paranoid vengefulness is scary, a sign a portion of the electorate’s critical thinking skills have been eaten by political syphilis. The Democrats should carefully consider the secondary effects of their actions, and ask (as voters will) if the goal is law enforcement or a political kill shot. If it is the latter, they better not miss again. This trial is potentially one of the most divisive acts of modern American politics.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Comic Book Toy Soldiers

    July 13, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas


    I had some great toys as a kid.

    Favorites included various sets of blocks, a huge collection of wooden ones, Legos, blocks that looked like Legos but were made by someone else, and all sorts of other variations. As a kid I won some sort of contest for building things out of Tinker Toys, wooden rods that interconnected with special hubs. Near the end of my childhood run there was an all-metal Erector Set assembled with nuts and bolts, Lincoln Logs, and some sort of electrical set.

    Alongside these were toy soldiers. Every kid has them, often in the hundreds. They came in clear plastic bags from the grocery store for 59 cents up to massive “playsets” that included vehicles and clearly were of the major Christmas present or birthday gift from grandpa variety.

    Whenever some new patch of dirt was discovered in the neighborhood all the boys would haul out their toy soldiers and hours would be spent digging holes and making forts for them. Actual “war” rarely happened, as the extensive preparations and setting up hundreds of soldiers always seemed to take until peace was declared because it was lunch or dinner time.

     

    There was always one bridge ahead too far. The comic book toy soldier sets.

    These sets have acquired an almost mythical quality among men of a certain age. In the 1960s nearly every boy wanted them due to the never ending advertising in comic books. Every comic included at least one full page color ad for these things. There were army, navy, and air force sets. Cowboy and Indian sets. Knights, Civil War, and Revolutionary War sets, the exact same sets advertised as “games,” and every possible variation.

    Each set contained “good guys” and “bad guys,” even if they were just the same figures molded in green or grey. Some also included sections of a fort or wall.

    The key was that the cartoon-like ads depicted the toy soldiers in epic battles, with them standing like mushrooms to the painted horizon. The ads were often drawn in exaggerated perspective, so the soldier in the foreground was 20 times the size of those in the distance. He usually was shouting. Holding the ad in your hand pre-puberty, you could feel the earth vibrate beneath you.

    I later learned the best of the ads were drawn by a renowned comic book artist, Russ Heath, of DC Comics. He certainly created the two most well known, the 100 Piece Toy Soldier Set ad, and the 132 Piece Roman Soldiers Set ad, for which he was paid $50 eachIt is unclear if all the others were drawn by Heath, or by others who just mimicked his style. 

    The reason the figures in the ads had no relation to the flat two-dimensional atrocities that came in the mail is because Heath never saw the actual product, and created the ads out of his imagination. He claims man-children of many ages would stop him at comic conventions in his later years to complain about how they still felt cheated. Nonetheless, the bright colors and flash and bangs in the illustrations matched exactly the images we had in our heads when we set up our own pathetic armies in the dirt patch in front of the O’Conner house.

    (Aside: that dirt patch was a gift to us from a benevolent god. Sometime in the mystic past a sewer repair had been done, requiring a decent-sized hole. Years later, despite the efforts of Mr. O’Conner, grass simply would not grow there. It was like a bald spot on his tree lawn and the site of most of our battles. I wish to believe it is still there, defying the laws of biology to not allow anything to grow. An archaeological excavation would likely produce hundreds of buried toy soldiers left outside during a hard rain only t be swallowed by the earth.)

     

    Back to those toy soldier sets from the comic books. They were not expensive, ranging from maybe 99 cents to $1.59. The problem was we kids, even if we had the allowance money saved up, could not order them on our own. We could carefully clip out the tiny coupon, squeeze our primary school block printing into the spaces for our address, maybe even find an envelope in the kitchen drawer and address it. The problem was the financial media: the coupon clearly said “No Cash, check or money order only.”

    That meant convincing an adult to write you a check in return for your handful of coins. This was very difficult somehow to accomplish. Pleas of “But mom, it’s my own money!” were met with stone cold refusals to send a check to some unknown address. Mail order in general in those days was considered a sleazy business, best left to “martial aids” and “health magazines” advertised in places other than comic books.

    For the rare kid who overcame all obstacles (usually with the help of a sympathetic uncle) it always seemed to end in disappointment. There are even online/Facebook groups today devoted to this, a kind of group therapy several decades removed. For all of what must have been tens of thousands of orders placed, few were ever delivered. Mom was right; the checks for $1.59 were cashed in what was clearly one of the least efficient scams in history and the soldiers were usually never delivered.

    I finally got my mom to write a check for me one time when I was home from school sick. My whining took on some sort of special urgency I guess, and she broke down. I was to receive the Modern Army set.

    I checked the mailbox daily for months. One day a small box, ironically about the size of the boxes paper checks used to come in from the bank, arrived, tired and battered. Inside was a handful of loose cowboys, each about an inch high. They were bright yellow, not a cowboy color, and flat. Unlike even the cheapest toy soldiers from the drug store, which were round and sort of 3D, they were flat as playing cards to I guess allow more of them to be crammed into a box. They barely would stand even on a stable, flat, table top, and certainly were of no use on the O’Conner battlefield.

    This was the actual moment of the end of my Childhood Innocence.

     

    Where did all this joy and angst come from? At first glance it looked like these flat soldiers were the work of Lucky Products Inc., which had its headquarters on Long Island. The sets themselves were made in Hong Kong. The problem is that the ads as I find them online now all list different addresses – Long Island, upstate and various other places in New York, and even Atlanta. The ads ran over a 20 year span. Was it all the work of one company?

    Maybe not. The fuller story begins with Milton Levine, who, just out of the military after WWII, decided his future lay in plastics. Levine formed a partnership with his brother-in-law, E. Joseph “Joe” Cossman and the pair formed a mail-order toy company. They connected with NOSCO Plastic of Erie, Pennsylvania, a supplier of plastic toys to Cracker Jack, and that’s where the first flats soldiers were made before the process migrated to Hong Kong. 

    It would take a year before the first flats were ready to ship, even though Levine was running ads in comic books the whole time. He hired a staff of women to open the huge amounts of mail and process the checks that arrived each day, al of which finally explain the delays which plagued many a childhood.

    Soon ads from other companies began appearing. Mastercraft, a Boston company, sold “100 Toy Soldiers for $1.00,” but did not include the important pasteboard “footlocker.” Levine and his brother-in-law it turns out themselves set up a number of separate companies (all with East Coast P.O. Boxes) as well as selling the flats wholesale to other, competing, mail-order companies. So everything sort of did come from one place all those years.

    Today even the original ads themselves are considered collectibles and sell on eBay. Never mind the ads, depending on condition, you can pick up an actual set of flat toy soldiers for $30-$50, which of course originally cost $1.59. Actually the highest recorded original price was for the 132 Roman Soldiers set at $2.98, plus postage and handling of course.

    But looking through the ads for sets for sale today I left smiling. Given all that are for sale today, that means a lot more got delivered than I ever believed as a kid. My friends and I may never have seen our soldiers arrive in the mail, but apparently lots of others did. Those kids treasured their flats, and kept them through many spring cleanings, moves to college dorms, and the like. They are moments never to be seen again frozen in cheap plastic.

    I thought about buying one. Whereas once upon a time $1.59 represented real money, today I can afford $50 if I want to spend it. But it would not be right. The set I’d buy would be heavy with someone else’s memories. It would be sent to me by FedEx,with minute-by-minute tracking. There would be no waiting by the mailbox every afternoon for months. It wouldn’t be right, would not be true to the myth. Some things are better left alone.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Renaming the Past to Cancel Thomas Jefferson, Rapist and Slave Owner

    July 10, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas, Post-Constitution America


     
    Falls Church City in Northern Virginia decided in the midst of last year’s George Floyd open season to rename two of its public schools. On the block were George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary.

    George Mason was a Founding Father, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, the basis for the full Bill of Rights. Nearby George Mason University is still named after him, but the city of Falls Church is stripping his name from its schools because in addition to all he did to create the United States, he was a slaveholder. Same for Thomas Jefferson, Founder, principal author of the Declaration of Independence, first Secretary of State, third President of the United States, and famously, rapist and slaveholder, Joker without the makeup.

    The people of Falls Church who made these changes probably mean well in a 2021-ish kind of way. The city is 72 percent white (and only 4.5 percent black.) An amazing 78 percent of adults in Falls Church have a Bachelors degree or higher, and most work for the Federal government in nearby Washington, DC (George Washington and six other presidents held slaves.) The city has a energetic farmer’s market with a proposal pending to add an “informational booth about how communities of color have less access to healthy foods” and votes solidly Democrat.

    The process of canceling the Founders was deliberate, with 13 meetings stretching over a year to come up with final school name candidates. For the high school, only one related to history at all, a name related to a local site where the first rural branch of the NAACP was located. The other choices were could-be-anywhere Metropolitan High School, Meridian (the eventual winner), Metro View, and West End. Same for deleting Mr. Jefferson’s name: the same local historical site came up, as did the name of a local white historical figure who started a school for special needs kids, along with a lot of geographical references  — the winner, Oak Street Elementary, “recognizes how trees are important natural elements.” No argument there, trees are good.

    What stands out is a devotion to keeping the point out of the renaming. As political the motivation was, it seems no one wanted an MLK high school, or a Rosa Parks elementary. Sally Hemmings, Jefferson’s rape victim and slave, did not make the cut. Truth and Justice Elementary School was seen as a “nod” to Jefferson and thus rejected.

    Left undiscussed is how the renamed Thomas Jefferson Elementary School still abuts George Mason Road. The renamed George Mason High School itself is located on Leesburg Pike, near Custis Parkway, named for the slave owning daughter of George Washington’s adopted son and the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It is hard to get away from history.

    At this point it is tempting to drive over to Whole Foods, park among the herd of Prius’ and mock the earnest people of Fall Church with their PBS tote bags. A wealthy, nearly all white community making a splash about renaming two schools to cancel a couple of Founding Fathers while carefully avoiding any teachable moment by replacing the slaveholders with the blandest of non-political names. Everyone’s white liberal guilt is assuaged with few feathers ruffled. And did you see the new artisanal cheeses in aisle eleven? Carol sent another $50 to the ACLU for us after George Floyd, you know.

     

    The thing is that as hard as it is to take these people seriously, it is equally hard to not take them seriously. They really believe themselves. And that poses 2021’s question.

    America did not invent slavery, racism, or discrimination. We can point to a moral struggle hundreds of years in process including a civil war that remains the most costly conflict to Americans in body count and brutality. The Founders struggled over how to deal with a system most knew was unsustainable, Jefferson among them. We tried.

    Yet alone in history we haven’t figured this out. South Africa, with an apartheid system designed to be as plainly racist as possible, found a way to untangle itself. The ancient world was built on slave labor and made the transition. The Germans found a way to deal with their relatively recent attempt not just at enslavement but industrial scale genocide.

    We fail because we refuse to admit crying racism, and making faux-fixes as in Falls Church, is as profitable politically as doing racist things is. Getting yourself elected calling out racism with righteous rage is not far away from using racist voting laws to get yourself elected. There is too much to gain by maintaining and then exploiting a racist system. If you heal the patient, what’s left for all the doctors to do?

    There is also what we’ll now call the Falls Church myth, this near-idiotic belief that insignificant changes add up to something significant. Changing the name of a school, or tearing down a statue, does not change history. That is why everyone is still “raising awareness” about the same problems after decades. It feels good, though.

    Same for the “first…” people, the ones who celebrate the first black this or the first woman that. That we chased that idea all the way into the Oval Office and two consecutive black attorneys general to see nothing much come of it answers the question of what it is worth as a change tool.

    We thrive on polarization, thinking somehow calling someone a white supremacist based on little more than his skin color or political party is going to… help? The critical catechism of MLK and the civil rights movement — that race should not matter — is turned on itself to humiliate those who struggled. Sorry folks, it turns out it is all about the color of your skin after all, except that we mean black people should get stuff for being black.

    Alongside are the everything-is-racist scorekeepers. These people point out since about 13 percent of us are black, anything that has less than that (colleges, certain jobs, SAT scores) or more than that (prisons, poverty, police shooting rates) is racist. The simplicity is attractive but the reality of ignoring the complexity of every other factor and explanation is where the argument fails hard. At the risk of offense, it is not just black and white out there.

     

    I used to walk past the statue of Marion Sims in Central Park. When I first looked him up in 2012, he was the father of modern gynecology, the founder of New York’s first women’s hospital, the 19th century surgeon who perfected a technique that still today saves the lives of tens of thousands of third-world women. When I checked his biography again in 2018 he had become a racist misogynist who conducted medical experiments without anesthesia on enslaved women. His statue was removed from Central Park while protesters chanted their “ancestors can rest” and “believe black women.” I’m glad they just got rid of the statue instead of putting up a modern plaque “explaining” it in woke-talk.

    The thing is Sims did all that he was said to have done. He developed surgical tools and techniques still used today. He did surgeries on both free white women and enslaved black women, mostly without anesthesia in part because anesthesia was not in wide use at the time and in part because he subscribed to the racist theory of his time that blacks did not suffer pain the same way whites did. His often life-saving surgeries (on blacks) have been memed into “medical experiments” to connect them to Nazi horrors, purposefully ignoring the difference between non‐therapeutic and therapeutic procedure and leaving his white patients out of the story altogether. Easier that way.

    Left out of the ranting is primary documentation suggesting Sims’ original patients — black and white — were willing participants in his surgical attempts to cure vesicovaginal fistula, a condition for which no other viable therapy existed until Sims invented it. That meant they would have died without his surgery.

     

    I’ll confess there are times I, too, struggle with Jefferson. No one is anyone but a beginner on the road to Galilee, but Jefferson’s gifts make him among the hardest to understand. With such an extraordinary mind, he could turn on a pinpoint towards the cruelty of owning fellow human beings. Yet Jefferson the slave owner did not pass that portion of his ideas to our future. He, Mason, and the other Founders created a system which would eventually eliminate slavery and correct itself. The evil of slavery was defeated at great cost but we seem unable to let it die.

    We crave simplicity in our history when there is only complexity. It is ridiculous to ignore world-changing accomplishments thinking that will somehow fix our racial problems. We just don’t want to grapple with the questions of personal responsibility and the problem of intergenerational victimhood as a lifestyle. We want the simplicity of reparations, imagining we can buy our way out of racial troubles. We do not question the value of changing a school’s name or knocking down a statue because that promises a simplistic fix that protects us from hard questions. We like it that way and it is unlikely anything that needs fixing will get fixed until that changes.

      

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Tale of Three Travel Destinations (Florida, NYC, Hawaii)

    July 4, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas


    As a fairly new resident of Hawaii, I bring an outsider’s perspective, and maybe a bit of uninvited advice. If Hawaii wants to regain its place as a popular tourist destination, it needs to think more like someone from Ohio than Oahu.

    Asian travel is at a standstill, and will be for some time. Should someone from Japan decide to visit our beautiful islands, in addition to our COVID requirements, upon returning home he would face a 14 day quarantine, a two-week ban on using public transportation, and location tracking via cell phone from his own government. If he breaks quarantine, among other penalties his name would be made public as someone “contributing to the spread of infection.” You would have to really, really love poi to build all that into a vacation.

    That brings us back to our potential Ohio traveler as he weighs his vacation options. He did the right thing and got double-vaccinated right away, and has been happily living and working without a mask for months. The pandemic as we still practice it here ended for most Americans months ago.

    Florida looks good to our traveler. Florida dropped all of its COVID restrictions about a year ago, and appears to have survived two Spring Breaks and beyond. Visitors can enter the state without testing, vaccination checks, or threats of quarantine. Disney, et al, are welcoming guests. Cruises look like they are about to restart. Instead of fretting, the governor is hosting a conference in September to bring together tourism professionals, advertising agencies, and state leaders to build on opportunities. They’re looking at $95 billion in revenues from tourism, the good stuff: people drive or fly in, use few governmental resources, and leave behind money. It is a sweet investment, as every $1 put into their tourism promotion agency, Visit Florida, yields a $3.27 return to taxpayers. Visitors save every Florida household more than $1,500 a year on state and local taxes. Florida gets it.

    New York City was ground zero once again, the hardest hit COVID site. The city faced some of the nation’s worst COVID management, slamming the door shut on what was a tourism industry that created  400,000 jobs and $70 billion in economic activity pre-pandemic. But slowly the place awoke to discover it was not Judgment Day 2020, but summer 2021. Visitors can enter without testing, vaccination checks, or threats of quarantine. As of mid-June, almost all COVID restrictions were dropped, and the Governor announced the state of emergency was over. Broadway is reopening with Bruce Springsteen, the Garden with the Foo Fighters, and the city is running a $30 million “NYC Reawakens” tourism campaign funded by stimulus money. After a year of some very bad decision making, the pols seem now to get it. Even the neo-socialist mayor says “building a recovery for all of us means welcoming tourists back.”

     

    Hawaii stands alone among the 50 states simply refusing to admit the pandemic is over. Hawaii alone requires not only COVID testing for unvaccinated visitors, but a complex regime of “trusted partners” who in the end administer the same tests through the same national labs as the untrusted partners. Let’s hope some of them are within a day’s drive of would-be tourists. Until a snap decision changed the rules as of July 8, Hawaii stood alone in treating those vaccinated in Hawaii differently from those vaccinated outside of Hawaii. It was always easier for dogs; as of today you can import a dog into Hawaii with an out-of-state rabies vaccine but not a tourist with an out-of-state COVID vaccine.

    The funny things is the only thing Hawaii worries about in human travelers is COVID. It neither tests for nor asks for proof of vaccination for yellow fever, malaria, ebola, AIDS, polio, Hepatitis A, B or C, leprosy, dengue fever, or hundreds of other diseases more problematic to the general population than COVID. And of course there is no science saying something magical happens at 70% local vaccination levels that does not happen at 69% or 59%. They’re just arbitrary numbers to create the illusion of control to provincial voters.

    Hawaii also seems unaware tourists need to plan vacations well ahead of time. The ever-changing guidance out of the Governor’s office drove people away. Imagine our Ohio tourist approaching his boss a month ago for time off: “Hey boss, can I have my two weeks when Hawaii hits 70%? It might be August, might be December, or they may alter the rules again, so we can stay chill on the dates, right?” That’s one traveler; if you are booking group tours, forget about it and go to Disney. The Governor’s waiting until late June to acknowledge vaccinated people don’t get COVID just wrote off a second summer season.

    If our Ohio visitor dips into the local news he sees the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor arguing publically over what the new rules should be. He sees Hawaii is looking to defund its own tourism promotion authority and still can’t get its light rail running.

    He reads unwelcoming, almost contemptuous Op-Eds wondering if too many tourists are spoiling things for the locals. He is unlikely to feel welcome with the Third World-like two-tiered pricing regime at popular sites. He sees articles about people sent home from the airport over an innocent Safe Travels mistake, stories suggesting he’ll need to rent a U-Haul as no cars are available, $120 Uber rides in from the airport, taxes going up on accomodations alongside already usurious “resort fees,” and bars and restaurants capped at limited capacity so it could be Zippy’s again for dinner. Hope word reached Ohio reservations are required for Hanauma Bay, and good luck scoring them.

    All this accompanied by the Jugend mask patrols, scolding anyone from ABC to CVS who is not wearing a mask, vaccinated or not. Sound like a vacation to you? The July 8 changes are welcome, but are in the end too little too late.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Rape and the Modern Belief Template

    July 3, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Trump

     

    A New York Times article  details an alleged rape from some 18 years ago, and multiple incidents of sexual harassment since experienced by the author over her long career covering professional baseball in Texas.

    It follows a now near-template structure: something terrible may have taken place many years ago, long past any statute of limitations. No physical evidence remains, and there never were any witnesses. The writer kept this to herself all this time (variant: once told her close friends but no one else) but now wants to “help bring about systemic change” by making a media event of it. She never explains how her article will contribute to systemic change, or what that change is beside perhaps “less sex crimes,” something pretty much everyone already agrees on. She demands you “believe her” in lieu of proof of both the incident and evidence of the connection to something systemic (did we use this term in this way before 2021?) and condemns you if you don’t.

    Since these stories follow a template, there are some boilerplate things I need to attend to. I’m aware this is not a subject we’re allowed to talk about in a critical way. It is politically taboo, so more of your woke friends will praise you for knee-jerk reactions to this than thoughtful consideration. I am of course in no way condoning rape. Of course people unfairly use their power.

    And even though I am a non-woman I understand violence. I’ve been the victim of (non-sexual) violent crime. I know what it is like to feel unsafe. Pain is universal. As a victim I want vengeance, mean and horrible. If I could see my assailants run over by a bus I would prefer that to a judicial process that might fail. But as a citizen I have higher goals. That’s the difference between what I am writing here and the genre of victim stories which infuse progressive media.

     

    The NYT author follows the progressive victim template to a T in dropping enough hints as to her assailant that an inside baseball audience can likely make a good guess, but chooses not to name him, just as she chose not to report any of this to law enforcement or the team he played for years before. She wants change, she wants justice, but she wants it 2021-style, imploring the reader to “believe” her, scolding the men (of course) in her life who don’t believe her, and wanting to fully deny her alleged rapist any chance to defend himself. She wants no chance someone will file a defamation suit against her. She wants a one-sided argument, supported only by the new-found righteousness of 2021 that her word because she is a woman negates the rule of law and is enough to condemn someone. She won’t name him because that would trigger a fully accounting and she only wants her side printed in the New York Times. Like her assailant, no fair fight.

    Are you now knee jerking in large part agreement? Try it in a different context, a thought experiment. I implore you to believe my boss of 20 years ago stole money out of my wallet. I choose not to name her and thus disallow her the chance to explain, defend herself, or add to a narrative I’m telling you is true or else. No he said/she said if there is no he named. But I’ll drop enough hints that my old office mates know who I’m talking about now that she is in a senior position, and I’ll cite examples of not believing victims as my full justification. If you don’t buy this, you’re dismissed as a misogynist, racist, victim shamer, whatever, no further discussion allowed. The response to denying victim rights in the past is to deny the accused rights today.

    Back in the template, the author explains why she did not report her alleged rape. “I choose not to name him because it would only open me up to the possibility of having dirt thrown on my reputation.” She follows up with “I knew that if I told anyone what happened that it would ruin my career. I was 22 with no track record, and at that time — nearly two decades ago — most people in baseball would have rallied to protect the athlete.” She wraps herself in “believe me” to avoid the much harder path an actual rule-based society demands; that accusations are insufficient, all people have rights, including the right to due process and a fair hearing in court or inside Human Resources. She goes on to cite her view of the unfairness of due process as justification for bypassing the process for what one imagines she thinks is street justice journalism-style. She demands everything based on “believe me” and mocks those who would “believe him.”

    (Bonus Belief Rules: We will never talk about Tara Reade, who credibly accused Joe Biden of sexual assault. We will refer to any accusations against Biden in a jocular fashion, Old  “Touchy Feely” Joe, can’t help himself, same way we sigh and giggle when grandpa passes gas at the dinner table.)

    Let’s go back to our thought experiment and my old boss, the one I claim stole money out of my wallet years ago. Would you shake your head in sad agreement that I was justified in not revealing anything, calling the cops, or going to HR because in a self-serving way I wanted to further my own career more than getting justice and avoid the problems of her defending herself against my accusation? That I buried the crime to get ahead, indeed did get ahead, and now 20 years want it both ways, victimhood points in the New York Times, perhaps a book deal or a Tina Fey mini-series, maybe a chance to smear without consequences someone I just don’t like, and still benefit from the career success I enjoyed for shutting up?

    What if I told you my boss went on to steal (I’m told…) money from other subordinates’ wallets, that I wasn’t the first or only victim? Would you agree I really had no choice and made a righteous decision to let her slide? That by benefiting from my decision to remain silent I may have harmed others who fell victim over the years but I’m still your hero in 2021? See how your emotions change when you’re convinced the crime is less personal and the victim (white, male) less deserving? Even as I implore you to believe me in my self-serving confession after explaining to you my self-serving silence?

    If any of this sounds familiar it is, because this playbook has been run against non-progressive men again and again these last few years. Accusations, made by the right kind of victim, are as useful as verdicts to a partisan press wanting voters to believe the president is a spy, violated arcane election funding laws, or out and out is simply an actual criminal rapist. The technique reached its nadir with a picture perfect accuser (a woman reanimated out of a horcrux from Hillary herself) demanding to be believed no matter that exculpatory evidence overwhelmed her testimony, weaponized to try to keep Brett Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court.

    And if any of that sounds familiar it is, because in 2021 “belief” in something you already want to agree with has replaced critical thinking. A series of events is presented which are more or less true but incompletely rendered — blacks have been enslaved in America since 1619, kids learn more about Gettysburg than Tulsa — and then they are presented as causation for a modern problem. So it was because of Dutch explorers owning slaves in 1619 in what would not be America for another 150 years cops today shoot black perps. The link isn’t proven, it likely does not even exist, but believe it. Arguments, ranging from Twitter-class nutholes to considered academic thinking are dismissed with memes and insults. And you can always count on the New York Times to help out!

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • What the Pentagon Papers 50th Anniversary Means

    June 26, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

     

    It was a humid June on the east coast 50 years ago when the New York Times began publishing the Pentagon Papers. The anniversary is worth marking, for reasons sweeping and grand, and for reasons deeply personal.

    In 1971 Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers, a secret U.S. government history of the Vietnam War, to the Times. No one had ever published such classified documents before, and reporters feared prosecution under the Espionage Act. A federal court ordered the Times to cease publication after an initial flurry of excerpts were printed, the first time in U.S. history a federal judge had invoked prior restraint and shattered the 1A.

    In a legal battle too important to have been written first as a novel, the NYT fought back. The Supreme Court on June 30, 1971 handed down a victory for the First Amendment in New York Times Company v. United Statesand the Times won the Pulitzer Prize. The Papers helped convince Americans the Vietnam War was wrong, their government could not be trusted, and The People informed by a free press could still have a say in things. This 20 year anniversary rightfully marks all that.

    Today, journalists expect a Pulitzer for a snarky tweet that mocks Trump. In our current shameful state where the MSM serves as an organ of the Deep State, the anniversary of the Papers also serves as a reminder to millennials OnlyFansing as journalists that there were once people in their jobs who valued truth and righteousness. Perhaps this may inspire some MSM propagandist to realize he might still run with lions instead of slinking home to feed his cats.

    The 50th anniversary of the Papers is also a chance to remember how fragile the victory in 1971 was. The Supreme Court left the door open for prosecution of journalists who publish classified documents by focusing narrowly on prohibiting the government from prior restraint. Politics and public opinion, not law, have kept the feds exercising discretion in not prosecuting the press, a delicate dance around an 800-pound gorilla loose in the halls of democracy. The government, particularly under Obama, has meanwhile aggressively used the Espionage Act to prosecute whistleblowers who leak to those same journalists.

    There is also a very personal side to this anniversary. When my book, We Meant Well, turned me into a State Department whistleblower and set off a wall of the bad brown falling on me, Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg sent me two of his books, unannounced, in the mail.

    He wrote a personal message inside each one, explaining to me what I was doing was hard, scary, and above all, a duty. It changed me and my understanding of what was happening to me. I wasn’t arguing procedure with the State Department and grubbing for my pension, I was defending the First Amendment itself. I wrote Dan a thank you note. Here’s some of it.

    Thank you for sending me copies of your books, and thank you even more for writing “with admiration for your truth telling” inside the cover flap of one. I am humbled, because I waited my whole life to realize today I had already met you.

    In 1971 I was 10 years old, living in Ohio. The Vietnam War was a part of our town’s life, same as the Fruehauf tractor-trailer plant with its 100 percent union workforce, the A&P and the Pledge of Allegiance. Nobody in my house went to war, but neighbors had gold stars in their windows and I remember one teacher at school, the one with the longer hair and the mustache, talking about Vietnam.

    It meant little to me, involved with oncoming puberty, but I remember my mom bringing home from the supermarket a newsprint quickie paperback edition of the Pentagon Papers. There of course was no Internet and you could not buy the Times where I lived. Mom knew of politics and Vietnam maybe even less than I did, but the Papers were all over the news and it seemed the thing to do to spend the $1.95. When I tried to make sense of the names and foreign places it made no impact on me.

    I didn’t understand then what you had done. While I was trying to learn multiplication, you were making photocopies of classified documents. As you read them, you understood the government had knowledge early on the war could not be won, and that continuing would lead to many times more casualties than was ever admitted publicly.

    A lot of people inside the government had read those same Papers and understood their content, but only you decided that instead of simply going along with the lies, or privately using your new knowledge to fuel self-eating cynicism, you would try to persuade U.S. Senators Fulbright and McGovern to release the papers on the Senate floor.

    When they did not have the courage, even as they knew the lies continued to kill Americans they represented, you brought the Papers to the New York Times. The Times then echoed the courage of great journalists and published the Papers, fought off the Nixon administration by calling to the First Amendment, and brought the truth about lies to America. That’s when my mom bought a copy of the Papers at the A&P.

    You were considered an enemy of the United States because when you encountered something inside of government so egregious, so fundamentally wrong, you risked your own fortune, freedom, and honor to make it public. You almost went to jail, fighting off charges under the same draconian Espionage Act the government still uses today to silence others who stand in your shadow.

    In 2009 I volunteered to serve in Iraq for my employer of some 23 years, the Department of State. While I was there I saw such waste in our reconstruction program, such lies put out by two administrations about what we were (not) doing in Iraq, that it seemed to me that the only thing I could do — had to do — was tell people about what I saw. In my years of government service, I experienced my share of dissonance when it came to what was said in public and what the government did behind the public’s back. In most cases, the gap was filled only with scared little men and women, and what was left unsaid hid their flaws.

    What I saw in Iraq was different. There, the space between what we were doing (the waste), and what we were saying (the chant of success) was filled with numb soldiers and devastated Iraqis, not nerveless bureaucrats. It wasn’t Vietnam in scale or impact, but it was again young Americans risking their lives, believing for something greater than themselves, when instead it was just another lie. Another war started and run on lies, while again our government worked to keep the truth from the people.

    I am unsure what I accomplished with my own book, absent getting retired-by-force from the State Department for telling a truth that embarrassed them. So be it; most people at State will never understand the choice of conscience over career, the root of most of State’s problems.

    But Dan, what you accomplished was this. When I faced a crisis of conscience, to tell what I knew because it needed to be told, coming to realize I was risking at the least my job if not jail, I remembered that newsprint copy of the Papers from 1971 which you risked the same and more to release. I took my decision in the face of the Obama administration having already charged more people under the Espionage Act for alleged mishandling of classified information than all past presidencies combined, but more importantly, I took my decision in the face of your example.

    Later, whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden would do the same. I know you have encouraged them, too, through your example and with personal messages.

    So thank you for the books you sent Dan. Thank you for your courage so that when I needed it, I had an example to assess myself against other than the limp men and women working now for a Department of State too scared of the truth to rise to claim even a whisper of the word courage for themselves.

    Fast-forward to 2021. In these last few years the term “whistleblower” has been co-opted such that a Deep State operative was able to abuse the term to backdoor impeachment against a sitting president. The use of anonymous sources has devolved from brave individuals speaking out against a government gone wrong into a way for journalists to manufacture “proof” of anything they want, from claims the president was a Russian spy to the use of the military to create a photo op in Lafayette Park.

    On this anniversary we look at individuals like Ellsberg and reporters like those at the Times and know it is possible for individuals with courage to make a difference. That is something worth remembering, and celebrating.

      

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  • Democrats and the Economy: The New Slaves of Hawaii

    June 19, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage

     

    We don’t have to ask what happens when Democrats mess with the economy. We have Hawaii, frozen in COVID fear, a wonderful laboratory with the “what” as clear as a petri dish full of bacteria. It stinks. A case study in Democrats and the Economy.

     

    Hawaii exists in distinct state-lets, enclaves, socio-economic islets, maybe microbiomes. The Hawaii most people know is of course beautiful Waikiki, a place that if the darn Russians had not coined the term Potemkin Village would have taken the name for itself. Waikiki is fake, joyously fake, a kind of mellow version of the Vegas swindle, as if Ikea was the designer instead of 1950s mobsters. It exists only to separate tourists from their money. The beach is indeed gorgeous (but man-made, even that is fake) the ocean delightful, and prices are kept reasonable enough that it is accessible to a large number of people, as opposed to say Tahiti or Aruba. And for the most part the only locals a visitor will encounter are there to serve them. Back to Waikiki in a moment.

     

    A small but very important sector behind the facade of Waikiki are the wealthy, people whose two bedroom apartments near Honolulu are in the millions and whose stand alone homes on the Windward shore are in the multimillions. They live on the beaches tourists don’t visit, just barely maintaining the illusion of government-mandated public access to that soft white sand via thong-wide hidden paths between their walled compounds. The Obamas bought such a place, though many of the other super wealthy are from Asia. A careful look at names on tax records allows one to map the various Asian bubbles and recessions, with clusters of Japanese there, Chinese here, Koreans nearby, etc.
    These people have nothing to do with the rest of the Hawaiian ecology except one crucial role: they are the apex taxpayers who fund the extensive social welfare system semi-taking care of much of the rest of Hawaii. Benefits packages in Democrat-ruled Hawaii are the highest in the nation, an average of $49,175, and untaxed. For the last nine years Hawaii spent more on public welfare benefits, about 20 percent of the state budget, then it did on education. More than one out 10 people in Hawaii get food stamps, plus free lunches at school and for the elderly. Hawaii already vies with California for the nation’s highest state income tax.

    The other sources of revenue are Federal defense spending (not part of this safari) and tourism. I told you we’d get back to Waikiki soon. Visitors to the paradise of Oahu may or may not notice all those decaying apartments outside their Uber’s window between the airport and Waikiki, the tent villages on the remote beaches or along the surface roads. Few tourists get off the highway and explore, and few diverge from the round-the-island one day rental car pilgrimage to poke deep inland. It’s OK, tourists are not supposed to, and in fact are really not too welcome in many spots. This is where the bulk of Hawaiians live in a cross between what resembles rural West Virginia in per capita rusted cars and one of the nicer third world countries like Jamaica, deep in poverty but gaily painted.

    Hawaii is nearly always one of the top states in terms of homelessness, poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, and diabetes. The people behind those statistics live in a relationship with the ultra-rich that is mostly like those little fish that swim inside a shark’s gills. Unseen and unminded, somewhere between symbiotic and parasitic, depending on your politics. It is precisely such relationships which define the Third World.

     

    The thing is in many ways this eco-econosystem sort of worked pre-COVID. Because it lacks the racial tensions that burden places like New York (whites are a minority in Hawaii at 25 percent, blacks only two percent) crime is almost all intramural, people victimizing each other inside their own neighborhoods. Think of Hawaii’s poor more as herbivores who occasionally fuss over territory when really necessary and New York’s as carnivores always looking for a fresh killing grounds just because. Drugs are a horrible problem off the beaten path, but in the eyes of the rich, not really a problem as the drugs stay “over there.” Until recently when Mexican imports began arriving like invasive junk fish in a cargo hold, even Hawaii’s favorite drugs — weed and meth — were even a local product.
    COVID upset the finely-balanced system. Suddenly fear gave government the chance to run fully amuck, with nothing to limit even the stupidest ideas. Everything was done by emergency decree, no debates, no votes, no process.
    Step One was a decision to slam the door hard on Hawaii’s second largest industry, tourism, once accounting for 24 percent of the economy, and throw tens of thousands of people out of work, crippling the businesses down the food chain from them where they spent their money at the same time. Did those workers come from the Gold Coast, the multi-million dollar homes of Kahala or the always voted one of the world’s best beaches areas near Kailua? Of course not. The working poor lost their jobs. But Hawaii already had in place a robust unemployment insurance system, whose benefits were made fatter by Federal supplement money. None of these workers missed the benefits from their old job as they never had any benefits in the first place.
    Fast forward 16 months of COVID and now the Hawaiian government would like some tourists to please come back and leave money. The government would also like workers to return to their Waikiki jobs to dance hula, serve drinks, and rub suntan lotion on all those white fish-bellied visitors. The old workers are mostly saying no, and the media is awash with articles about how the jobs are unfillable and woe is us if the tourists cannot be served. Lacking capitalism’s favorite cheap labor solution, massive numbers of usable illegal aliens, the jobs are so soulless and pay so little the only way to fill them is to force people by cutting unemployment benefits and no politician in Democratic-controlled Hawaii seems ready for that.

    Those “unfillable” jobs pay about $10-12 an hour, and so the employer can stay exempt from paying into Obamacare, limit workers to under 20 hours a week. That’s $240 a week, before it being fully taxed and with social security deducted, plus the costs of going to work, such as transportation, chipping away at the edges.

    Because the Hawaiian government still restrains trade by holding bars and restaurants to limited capacity and opening hours, any job working for tips is artificially capped. As the Hawaiian government is the only U.S. state left which still requires COVID tests for entry (that program alone has cost the state over $60 million in direct costs, even as travelers are saddled with paying $120 or more per test) and is among the dwindling few that still requires full masking, many tourists stay home. Arrivals are down some 50-75 percent overall, with the once-lucrative Asian trade hovering at zero. Everytime a plane lands some media flunky headlines “Tourism is back!” but they’ll be saying it for a long time. Think cargo cult.
    The way 25 other state governments found to force people to work for low wages is to do away with the Federal supplement portion of unemployment, so people can choose between about $130 a week unemployment or $240 a week working. Hawaii, as committed to its social welfare state as any college political science sophomore is committed to his vision of socialist utopia, has no plans to drop the Federal unemployment money. While everyone thinks on what’s next, the economy is dependent on unsustainable Federal  funding, such as a bailout of $196 million in “Biden Bucks” via the American Rescue Plan Act. Another “solution” to the lack of willing workers is for the government to restrict tourism, and/or charge tourists higher fees to visit popular sites because no one can imagine that would send holidaymakers to Disneyland instead.
    Meanwhile, Hawaii has long had a brain and brawn drain problem, with both tradespeople and college graduates moving out to the mainland U.S. COVID restrictions have only made this worse as the state clings to its masks like it is still 2020. Running underneath it all like a bass line are some of the highest gas prices in a long time and accelerating inflation, the latter another example of what happens when Democrats muddle in the economy.
    At some point the Hawaiian government is going to have to decide if it will loosen COVID restrictions to flood in more tourists, and/or give out less unemployment money (because ain’t nobody got time to raise wages) if it want to return to a running economy. Or maybe Biden will do it for them, as he plans to end the Federal supplement everywhere in September to mark our second lost summer. If not, thanks to government intervention all along the system, the media will be running labor shortage articles until someone on the Ron Burgundy Action News team figures out $400 in unemployment money is a bigger number than $240 cleaning toilets.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Aloha New York (or, Escape from New York)

    June 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Other Ideas


    It’s always the little things that tell the story. For me and New York, it is the dog poop.

    I keep wanting to love this city but it keeps fighting back. I finally realized it became an abusive relationship and it was time to leave. I no longer live there. My adult kids and quite a few of my neighbors bailed out months ago.

    The final straw was everywhere underfoot. I lived in a “nice” neighborhood. The fact that we so easily accept that we have nice and bad neighborhoods butted up against each other is part of the problem, too. But my neighborhood was nice, mostly residential, with a lot of pets. There was dog poop everywhere such that you learned to look down as you walked and developed a kind of skip and slide move to quickly reroute. You saw the brown skid marks where someone did not nail their landing.

    We had human excrement, too. A nice neighborhood means “good” edible garbage for the leagues of Third World homeless who live off our trash. A lot of people tend to throw out their recyclable cans instead of taking them to the recycle point for coins. The spud boy variety homeless who graze these streets can often scrounge up a few bucks in cans each night. Then they have to poop and there are no public toilets. After corporate Starbucks ordered all its stores to make restrooms available to customers and others, many in sketchy areas just locked up their toilets and stuck on a sign saying “Out of Order.”

    But I can’t blame the dogs for us leveling down. The issue is with the people walking those dogs who decision by decision choose not to pick up the crap. Every day so many neighbors decide not to pick up, leaving it for the people they live near to deal with. “I only care about me,” there is no better summation of why I left New York.

     

    But alongside the little things are of course the big ones. New York is a failed experiment. Massive public housing estates were built up the east side and northern end of Manhattan, as well as in the outer boroughs, starting in the 1950s. What was once seen as an expedient to get people back on their feet (alongside food stamps and the other A-Z of social welfare) morphed into inter-generational poverty, generations of people who have never really worked and exist on the taxes of those who do. Knowledge of how to best exploit these systems is passed on the way a father might once have passed on his skills as a carpenter to a son.

    Though the causes are complex, the reality is very simple. Poverty lines, like most of the city geographically, are sharply racial in division. People proudly claim New Yorkers speak 70 some languages, but in truth not often with each other. Broadly NYC is one of the most racially diverse places in America, but people live close but not together. Everyone knows where the white-black-brown lines are, usually by street (96th Street near me is a marker) but sometimes by housing complex.

    Even the magnificent Central Park is racially divided. Check real estate prices at the southern end of the Park, the so-called Billionaires Row, versus the northern end where the Park is capped by liquor stores with bars on the windows and walkup tenements poor people have been swapping out since 1900. Chinatown and Greektown sound fun for tourists, but nobody is comfortable admitting we also have Hebrew Village, Caucasianland, and Blacktown.

    The underlying financial system is unsustainable, far too few people (less now with COVID flight) paying too many taxes to support indefinitely too many others. The wealthy still enjoy NYC as long as they stay in their own layer, living hundreds of feet above the city, taking advantage of cheap labor for their needs, and scuttling to cultural events in towncars like cockroaches when the kitchen light flips on. They don’t live in NY, they float above it. Many play at liberalism, supporting the cause of the day espoused by the Daily Show and donating to PBS, but they really have no way to care. They literally do not even see what is happening around them.

    New York had great pizza, enough to have America’s only professional pizza tour guide (though the city has fallen to a disgraceful third place nationally for pizza.) Amazing bagels. Shopping to die for, the museums, the energy. Broadway. But the list of what one has to put up with on a usual and customary basis to access all that grows worryingly longer, even without factoring in COVID. Street crime. Homelessness. A deteriorating public transportation system that gets more expensive to use proportionally as it gets less pleasant to use.

    Take a non-rush hour bus ride and you will almost certainly be forced to navigate someone with mental illness. A police force that has either pretty much given up doing anything more than keeping the combatants apart or is a racist invading army, depending on where you think. I love a great slice of pizza, but I also got beat up on my own block in what the cops said was some sort of gang initiation and I was damn lucky not to get seriously hurt.

    Add in the black slush lagoons that form on every street corner after a heavy snow as the plowed snow accumulates in vast heaps. The co-op apartment system where each building is like a mini-Vatican with its own rules and eccentricities. Some of the highest taxes in the country. Creaky infrastructure that leaks water, steam, gas, and electricity, sometimes all at once, to blend with the street gravy of the homeless.

    And what is the city government focused on? Doing away with the rigorous entrance exams at its elite high schools in hopes of balancing them racially. And of course defunding the police and realigning pronouns. The inmates are literally in charge; NYC did away with bail in favor of catch-and-release in most cases.

    That NYC’s problems exist in some form in other cities across America is nothing to be proud of. Rather, the prevalence is symbolic of America’s stubborn and globally unique insistence on not providing universal healthcare, of maintaining a tax-stock-economic system which brews economic inequality,  not controlling its immigration, and of not creating infrastructure jobs to bust poverty. The focus remains on NYC in part because of the city’s constant bleating that it is the greatest in the world.

     

    New York has never in its history pretended to be a warm and fuzzy place. It has always challenged its residents to accept a certain amount of guff in return for the shoulder tab “New Yorker.” But the line between that and watching people suffer in the streets is one now for me too far. I’m not alone; people are neither moving in to the city nor staying. A realtor friend in Florida says every phone call these days is from someone in Boston, Chicago, New York or the like. “They ask about schools,” he said. In the last year over 33,000 New Yorkers moved to Florida, a 32 percent increase from the same period the prior year. A drop in the bucket some may say until they realize about that same number of high earners pay 40 percent of the taxes in the city. Florida has no income tax.

    If I sound frustrated, like I should be doing a Jeep commercial for next year’s Super Bowl, it’s because I am. I was born here in New York, and have seen these up and down cycles before. This one seems like it will stick for a awhile. That’s enough right there. But this round, driven by a near completely terrible series of COVID decisions, is so clearly man-made. Most of it did not need to happen but it did. Living through it, I can’t say it made me a better man, a happier man, a more caring man. I don’t like what it did to me. Us.

    New York, like other large cities in the U.S. fails to understand what was done to it via COVID is no temporary change, even if some of the tourists dribble back in. No one will blow a whistle or yell “cut” and everything resets to March 2020. A profound change occurred in America. For the first time in history, where one lives and where one works have been decoupled. New York City no longer holds the record for most billionaires resident. That’s in Beijing now.

    I’ll miss some of the hustle, as well as the symphony of overheard interactions which end with “And f*ck you, too!” And I know New York will be back in some form post-COVID, but it will need in the interim to have a hard conversation with itself along the way. Playground for the rich? Island prison for the poor? Stumbling social experiment while the towers literally deteriorate around us all? As that famous song goes, “it’s up to you New York, Neeeeew Yoooork!” Just do it without me.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • The Case that U.S. Paid for the Work in Wuhan Which Created COVID

    June 5, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump


    It reads like science fiction but it is very real. The work which likely created COVID-19 was paid for by the United States. Research which could create a bioweapon — genetically engineering the highest possible infectivity for human cells — was subcontracted to the Chinese government. And thanks to a series of cover-ups, we are unlikely to ever know the full truth. The people who lost loved ones, lost their jobs, who fell into despair under societal restrictions, deserve better.

    There are two origin stories for COVID-19. One is that it emerged naturally, evolving from a bat virus to infect humans. The other is COVID-19 was genetically created by China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology via gain of function research funded by the U.S. The virus then escaped into the world. That year you spent at home, those loved ones who died, might have been our own fault. The point is more than assigning guilt; understanding the true origin of the pandemic is critical to preventing it from happening again, as well as as a guide to future gain of function research. It is hard to overstate the importance of this; our lives depend on it.

     

    The first bioscientist to take a serious look at the origins of the virus raised the possibility it had been manipulated by humans, not nature. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists went on to ask directly “Did people or nature open Pandora’s Box at Wuhan?” and goes on to make a strong case it was us.

    It starts with EcoHealth Alliance of New York. For 20 years they have routinely created viruses more dangerous than those that exist in nature. In favor of what common sense would immediately see as a bioweapon capable of destroying the human race, some scientists argue by getting ahead of nature they could predict and prevent “spillovers” of viruses from animal hosts to humans. Like something out of Jurassic Park, this is known as gain of function research, genetic manipulation to “improve” nature. Such work already allowed scientists to recreate the 1918 flu virus, to show how the almost extinct polio virus can be synthesized from its published DNA sequence, and introduce a smallpox gene into a related virus.

    Some of that work was done at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, teamed with researchers at the University of North Carolina. Specifically, they focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans. In November 2015 they together created a manufactured virus that was once dangerous only to bats now able to infect the cells of the human airway.

    The key Chinese researcher in this work at Wuhan Institute of Virology, known as the “Bat Lady,” specialized further, engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells. Her research was funded by the Obama administration’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIH initially assigned those grants to an American company, EcoHealth, who subcontracted the work to Wuhan. To be clear: the work which likely created COVID-19 was paid for by the United States. Research which along with its medical potential could create a bioweapon was subcontracted to the Chinese government by an American company.

    The Wuhan lab was already a nexus of attention pre-pandemic. The Bat Lady had previously traveled to Mozambique in September 2019 to give a controversial presentation on bat coronaviruses. Outcry quickly led Wuhan to pull their virus database offline following the trip. The Chinese government still refuses to provide any of its raw data, safety logs or lab records. Another Wuhan scientist was forced to leave a Canadian university for shipping deadly viruses, including ebola, back to China. The lab also allegedly tried to steal intellectual property regarding remdesivir, a class of antiviral medications used to treat COVID-19 prior to the vaccine. No small connection, the editorial board of the Bat Lady’s virology journal includes members of the Chinese military.

    There is also the question of safety at the Wuhan lab. As early as 2018 Wuhan alarmed U.S. State Department inspectors who visited it. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the inspectors wrote. They warned the lab’s work on “bat coronaviruses and their potential human transmission represented a risk of a new SARS-like pandemic.” Though they had higher security facilities, the Chinese were working in mostly BSL2-level safety conditions which were far too lax to contain a virus like COVID-19.

     

    The other origin theory, natural emergence, never has had any evidence to support it. The Bulletin states “This was surprising because both the SARS1 and MERS viruses [related to COVID-19] had left copious traces in the environment. The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months.”

    Yet some 15 months after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which COVID-19 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to late 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year. In just one example of that lack of evidence, the search in China for the natural origin of the virus included testing more than 80,000 different animals from across dozens of Chinese provinces. Not a single case of COVID-19 in nature was found. Chinese researchers did primordial cases in people from Wuhan with no link to that infamous wet market China claims sold an infected bat eaten by Patient One.

    So why has the natural origin theory persisted in the face of no evidence? One of the strongest shows of support for the natural theory was a letter from dozens of scientists published in early 2020 in the British medical journal Lancet. The letter had actually been organized and written not by the scientists, but by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth the grantee who subcontracted with Wuhan, though his involvement was not disclosed at the time. If the virus had indeed escaped from research they funded, EcoHealth would be potentially liable, as of course would the American government. Ecohealth went on to plant never-challenged stories in the MSM labeling anyone who thought Wuhan was to blame as a conspiracy crank.

    Meanwhile, a Chinese-affiliated scientific journal at the University of Massachusetts Medical School commissioned commentary to refute that COVID-19 originated in the Wuhan lab, the same position held by the Chinese government. Mirroring the American media, the journal called anything to the contrary “speculations, rumors, and conspiracy theories.” Chinese officials also objected elsewhere to any name, such as the Wuhan Flu, linking the virus to China.

    In addition to these cover-up efforts, there were those of Dr. Anthony Fauci. In answer to Senator Rand Paul, Fauci stated “you are entirely and completely incorrect — that the NIH has not ever and does not now fund gain-of-function research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.” He appears to have committed perjury, as Fauci now admits “there’s no way of guaranteeing” American taxpayer money routed to Wuhan virology didn’t fund gain-of-function research. Fauci has also reversed himself completely in saying he is not convinced COVID developed naturally. The Senate passed a Rand Paul-sponsored amendment banning funding of gain of function research in China.

     

    The cover-up was aided in every possible way by the media. Though in 2021 The Wall Street Journal reported three researchers the Wuhan Institute of Virology became “sick enough in November 2019 [a month before the first “public” cases] with COVID-19-like symptoms that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report,” they along with their peers showed little curiosity a year earlier.

    One important word in the Journal’s sentence is undisclosed. What they mean is the media did not know about the report, but the U.S. government did. When the president tried to talk to the American people about his now-prescient decision to shut down travel from China in early 2020, he knew about the intel report. As in most cases involving intelligence, the president had to act on the information, and inform the public, without without giving away sources and methods. No thinking person today can claim the move to shut down travel was a mistake.

    The media, however, had other priorities, especially the task of defeating Donald Trump. They immediately slammed the decision as racist, and promoted the Chinese government’s evidence-free explanation the Wuhan lab had no connection with the pandemic.

    A WaPo headline read “Experts debunk fringe theory linking China’s coronavirus to weapons research” and a separate story said believing the Chinese had anything to do with creating COVID was as credible as the Soviet Union in 1985 accusing the CIA of manufacturing AIDS. “Senator Tom Cotton Repeats Fringe Theory of Coronavirus Origins,” said the New York Times in February 2020, adding “Scientists have dismissed suggestions that the Chinese government was behind the outbreak.” The Times’ article, however, did not quote or name any of the supposed scientists. Then there was a hagiographic bio piece on the Bat Lady. Later, Time named her one of the 100 most influential people of 2020, claiming her “scientific accomplishments and foresight are exactly what we need if we want to stop more coronaviruses.”

    It is only now, months into the safety of the Biden administration, that the media is willing to take a peek inside Pandora’s Box. Politifact walked back its slam dunk “fact check” China had nothing to do with it, and Facebook announced it would no longer censor posts claiming the virus was man-made. Yet despite the deaths of millions of people, Washington still has little interest into the origin story. The Biden administration shut down a State Department investigation in March of this year, claiming the work was politically motivated. Under pressure Biden later asked for his own investigation from the intelligence community, which will by definition produce a paper of ambiguous findings, concluding happily none of the scenarios can be confidently ruled in or ruled out.

     

    There will be no smoking gun. The people who know the truth, the Chinese government and Ecohealth, have already been caught lying. Gain of function research does not leave a physical marker to prove origin. To date, there is no evidence COVID-19 was of a natural origin. There is much to show it was not. To argue any other way requires an expert understanding of terms like furin site, RBM, RaTG13, and spike protein, not Google.

    We do know Wuhan conducted gain of function research aimed at doing what COVID-19 does, making a virus originally not dangerous to humans into a super-infector designed to spread quickly while resisting then-existing cures and vaccines. We know the Patient One cases of the virus were in Wuhan. We know researchers at the lab were infected in November 2019. We know safety standards at the lab were insufficient to contain the virus. In a murder case this would be enough to show means, motive, and method beyond a reasonable doubt.

    We know the basic gain of function research at the lab was funded by the United States. We know we were lied to about this.

    We also know despite the global importance of the story, investigations never mind curiosity were non-existent in the media. They instead promoted the cover-up stories produced by Ecohealth, the WHO, and the Chinese government. The media shut out dissenting opinions by labeling them as conspiracy fodder, even mocking the co-discoverer of HIV and Nobel Prize winner for suggesting non-natural origins.

    We are unlikely to definitively ever know the origin of COVID-19, and politicians and pundits will make the most of the ambiguity.  But as the wise man said, cut through all the lies and there it is, right in front of you.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • CIA (Dis)Information Operations Come Home to the US

    May 29, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, NSA

     

    Reporters joke the easiest job in Washington is CIA spokesman. You need only listen carefully to questions and say “No comment’ before heading to Happy Hour. The joke, however, is on us. The reporters pretend to see only one side of the CIA, the passive hiding of information about itself. They meanwhile choose to profit from the other side of the equation, active information operations designed to influence events in America. It is 2021 and the CIA is running an op against the American people.

    Leon Panetta, the Director CIA from 2009 to 2011 explained bluntly his CIA did influence foreign media outlets ahead of elections in order to “change attitudes within the country.” The method, Panetta said, was to “acquire media within a country or within a region that could very well be used for being able to deliver a specific message or work to influence those that may own elements of the media to be able to cooperate, work with you in delivering that message.”

    The CIA has been running such information ops to influence foreign elections since the end of WWII. Richard Bissell, who ran the agency’s operations during the Cold War, wrote of “exercising control over a newspaper or broadcasting station, or of securing the desired outcome in an election.” A report on the CIA in Chile boasts the Agency portrayed its favored candidate in one election as a “wise, sincere and high-minded statesman” while painting his leftist opponent as a “calculating schemer.” At one point in the 1980s foreign media insertions ran 80 a day.

    The goal is to control information as a tool of influence. Sometimes the control is very direct, simply paying a reporter to run a story, or, as was done in Iraq, simply operating the media outlet yourself (known as the Orwellian Indigenous Media Project.) The problem is such direct action is easily exposed, destroying credibility.

    A more effective strategy is to become a source for legitimate media such that your (dis)information inherits their credibility. The most effective is an operation so complex one CIA plant is the initial information source while a second CIA plant acts seemingly independently as a confirming source. At that point you can push information to the mainstream media, who can then “independently” confirm it, sometimes unknowingly, through your secondary agents. You can basically write tomorrow’s headlines.

    Other techniques include exclusive true information mixed with disinformation to establish credibility, using official sources like Embassy spokesmen to appear to inadvertently confirm sub details, and covert funding of research and side gigs to promote academics and experts who discredit counter-narratives. The academics may never know where their money comes from, adding to their credibility.

    From the end of WWII to the Church Committee in 1976, this was all just a conspiracy theory. Of course the US would not use the CIA to influence elections, especially in fellow democracies. Except it did. By its nature reporting on intelligence always requires one to work with limited information. Always give time a chance to explain.

    Through Operation Mockingbird the CIA ran over 400 American journalists as direct assets. Almost none have ever discussed their work publically. CIA documents show journalists were engaged to perform tasks for the CIA with the consent of the managements of America’s leading news organizations. The New York Times alone willingly provided cover for about ten CIA officers over decades and kept quiet about it. Such long term relationships are a powerful tool, so feeding a true big story to a young reporter to get him promoted is part of the game. Don’t forget the anonymous source who drove the Watergate story was an FBI official who through his actions made the careers of  cub reporters Woodward and Bernstein. Bernstein went on to champion the Russiagate story. Woodward became a Washington hagiographer. Ken Dilanian, formerly with the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press, and now working for NBC, maintains a “collaborative relationship” with the CIA.

     

    That’s the tradecraft and the history. The problem for America is once again the tools of war abroad have come home. The intelligence community is currently operating against the American people using established media.

    Some of it can’t be more obvious. The CIA always planted stories in foreign media for American outlets to pick up. The Agency works directly with Hollywood to control movies about itself. Turn on any of the advocacy media outlets and you see panels of former CIA officials. Journalist Matt Taibbi even created a list (and since ex-‘s need agency clearance to speak, all are of the officially approved class.) None is more egregious than John Brennan, former Director CIA, who for years touted Russiagate when he knew from information gathered while he was still in office it was all a lie.  The uber-lie that Trump was dirty with Russia was leaked to the press most likely by Brennan in January 2017 as the kick off event to the info op still running today.

    Brennan’s role is more than speculation. John Durham, the US attorney leading the ongoing “how it happened” Russiagate investigation into the intelligence community, has requested Brennan’s emails and call logs from CIA. Durham is also examining whether Brennan changed his story between his public comments (not under oath, say anything) and his May 2017 testimony to Congress (under oath, watch out for perjury) about the dossier. Reporter Aaron Mate is less delicate, laying out the evidence Brennan was “a central architect and promoter of the conspiracy theory from its inception.” Even blunter is Senator Rand Paul, who directly accuses Brennan of trying “to bring down a sitting president.”

     

    It was all based on nothing but disinformation and the American press swallowed every bit of it, turning the op into a three year tantrum falsely convincing a vast number of citizens their nation was run by a Russian asset. Robert Mueller, whose investigation was supposed to propel all this nothing into impeachment hearings, ended up exercising one of the last bits of political courage Americans will ever see in walking right to the edge of essentially a coup and refusing to step off into the abyss.

     

    The CIA is a learning institution, and recovered well from Russiagate. Details can be investigated. That’s where the old story fell apart. The dossier wasn’t true. But the a-ha discovery was since you’ll never formally prosecute anyone, why bother with evidence. Just throw out accusations and let the media fill it all in for you. The new paradigm included let the nature of the source — the brave lads of the intelligence agencies — legitimize the accusations this time, not facts. Go overt and use the new, unexpected prestige of the CIA as progressive heros to substantiate things.

    So in December 2017 CNN reported Donald Trump, Jr. had advance access to the WikiLeaks archive. Within an hour, NBC’s Ken Dilanian and CBS both claimed independent confirmation. It was a complete lie, based on fabricated documents. How do you confirm a lie? Ask another liar.

    In February 2020, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) briefed the House Intelligence Committee the Russians were election meddling again to favor Trump. A few weeks earlier, the ODNI briefed Bernie Sanders the Russians were also meddling in the Democratic primaries in his favor. Both briefings were leaked, the former to the New York Times to smear Trump for replacing his DNI, the latter to the Washington Post ahead of the Nevada caucuses to damage Sanders.

    In June 2020 The New York Times stated CIA officials concluded the Russians “secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops.”  The story ran near another claiming Trump had spoken disrespectfully about fallen soldiers. Neither story was true. But they broke around the same time Trump announced his plan to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, aimed at discouraging pro-military voters.

    Earlier this month The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, claimed the FBI gave a defensive briefing to Rudy Giuliani in 2019, before he traveled to Ukraine. Giuliani supposedly ignored the warning. The story was “independently confirmed” by both NBC and The New York Times. It was totally false.

     

    The American system always envisioned an adversarial role for the media. One of the earliest challenges to freedom of the press was the Colonial-era Peter Zenger case, which established the right of the press to criticize politicians free from libel charges. At times when things really mattered and even as other journalists hid under their beds, men like Edward R. Murrow worked their craft to preserve democracy. Same for Walter Cronkite finally reaching his opposition to the Vietnam War, and the New York Times reporters weighing imprisonment to publish the Pentagon Papers.

    In each of those instances the handful of reporters who risked everything to tell the truth were held up as heroes. Seeing the Times fighting for its life, the Washington Post co-published the Pentagon Papers to force the government to make its case not just against a rival newspaper, but the 1A itself.

    Not today. Journalism is today devoted to eliminating practitioners unwilling to play the game. Few have been targeted more than Glenn Greenwald (with Matt Taibbi as runner up.) Greenwald exploded into a journalistic superhero for his reporting on Edward Snowden’s NSA archive, founding The Intercept to serve as a platform for that work (Greenwald’s downfall parallels Julian Assange, who went from liberal hero for exposing the foundational lies of the Iraq War to zero when his Wikileaks was demonized for supposedly helping Donald Trump.)

    Greenwald’s criticism of the media for accepting Deep State lies as truth, particularly concerning Russiagate, turned him into a villian for progressives. MSNBC banned him, and other media outlets ran stories critical of him. Then something very, very odd happened to make it appear The Intercept outed one of its own whistleblower sources. Evidence suggests the source was a patsy, set up by the intel community, and exposed via Matt Cole, one of The Intercept journalists on this story. Cole was also involved in the outing of source CIA officer John Kiriakou in connection with torture claims. Either way new whistleblowers will think twice before turning to The Intercept. Greenwald recently quit the site after it refused to publish his article on Hunter Biden’s ties to China unless he deleted portions critical of Joe Biden.

    Greenwald seems to have figured out the intel community’s game, writing “the most significant Trump-era alliance is between corporate outlets and security state agencies, whose evidence-free claims they unquestioningly disseminate… Every journalist, even the most honest and careful, will get things wrong sometimes, and trustworthy journalists issue prompt corrections when they do. That behavior should be trust-building. But when media outlets continue to use the same reckless and deceitful tactics — such as claiming to have ‘independently confirmed‘ one another’s false stories when they have merely served as stenographers for the same anonymous security state agents while ‘confirming’ nothing — that strongly suggests a complete indifference to the truth and, even more so, a willingness to serve as disinformation agents.”

    Democracy has no meaning if people simply vote uninformed, as they are propagandized. It will be sport for future historians to mark the thing that most pushed America into decline. Seeing decades of success abroad in using info ops, the CIA and others turned those weapons inward. So seeing her Deep State meddle in presidential politics, simultaneously destroying (albeit mostly with their cooperation) the adversarial media, while crushing faith in both our leaders and in the process of electing them, will certainly be a top qualifier.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • COVID, Learned Helplessness, and Control

    May 22, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

     

    In the post-vaccination era, why don’t people remove their masks? Learned helplessness, employed as a control tool.

    Learned helplessness is well-documented. It takes place when an individual believes he continuously faces a negative, uncontrollable situation and stops trying to improve his circumstances, even when he has the ability to do so. Discovering the loss of control elicits a passive reaction to a harmful situation. Psychologists call this a maladaptive response, characterized by avoidance of challenges and the collapse of problem-solving when obstacles arise. You give up trying to fight back.

    An example may help: you must keep up with ever-changing mask and other hygiene theatre rules, many of which make no sense (mask in the gym, but not the pool; mask when going to the restaurant toilet but not at your table, NYC hotels are closed while Vegas casinos are open, Disney California closed while Disney Florida was open) and comply. You could push back, but you have been made afraid at a core level (forget about yourself rascal, you’re going to kill grandma if you don’t do what we say) and so you just give in. Once upon a time we were told a vaccine would end it all, yet the restrictions remain largely in place. You’re left believing nothing will fix this. Helpless to resist, you comply “out of an abundance of caution.”

    American psychologists Martin Seligman and Steven Maier created the term “learned helplessness” in 1967. They were studying animal behavior by delivering electric shocks to dogs (it was a simpler time.) Dogs who learned they couldn’t escape the shock simply stopped trying, even after the scientists removed a barrier and the dog could have jumped away.

    Learned helplessness has three main features: a passive response to trauma, not believing that trauma can be controlled, and stress.

    Example: you are being stalked by a killer disease which often has no outward symptoms. There is nothing you can do but hide inside and buy things from Amazon. The government failed to stop the virus initially, failed to warn you, failed to supply ventilators and PPE gear, and failed to produce a vaccine quick enough. You may die. You may kill your family members along the way. You have lost your job by government decree and are forced to survive on unemployment and odd stimulus check, manufactured dependence. It is all very real: WebMD saw a 251 percent increase in searches for anxiety this April.

    Americans, with their cult-like devotion to victimhood, are primed for learned helplessness. Your problems are because you’re a POC, or fat, or on some spectrum. You are not responsible, can’t fix something so systemic, and best do what you are told.

    The way out is to allow people to make decisions and choices on their own. This therapy is used with victims of learned helplessness such as hostages. During their confinement all the important decisions of their life, and most of the minor ones, were made by their captors. Upon release, many hostages fear things as simple as a meal choice and need to be coaxed out of helplessness one micro-choice at a time.

    Example: you cannot choose where to stand, so follow the marks on the floor. Ignore the research saying three feet apart is as useful/useless as six feet apart. Don’t think about why the rules are the same inside a narrow hallway and outside in the fresh air but don’t apply at all on airplanes.

    Kin to learned helplessness are enforcers. Suddenly your waitress transitions from someone serving you into someone ordering you to wear a mask, sit alone, eat outside, etc. Flight attendants morph from delivering drinks to holding the power to have security haul you to jail for unmasking when not actively eating. Companies once run by entrepreneurs are today controlled by the harassment stalking undead from HR. We’ve become a republic of hall monitors. And there it is. The wrong people are in charge.

    One of the better examples of learned helplessness is One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, a great book made into an impressive movie starring a lean Jack Nicholson. Nurse Ratched cows a group of mentally ill men into complete learned helplessness, encouraging them to rat each other out for small offenses, and to follow her every order no matter how absurd. The kicker comes near the end when we learn all of the men (except Nicholson) are free to leave the hospital at any time. They just… can’t.

    It is amazing how fast people stepped into the Nurse Ratched roll. Within moments of COVID’s arrival in the national conscience, officials like California’s Gavin Newsom, and New York’s power bottom twins Andrew Cuomo and Bill De Blasio raced to assume dictatorial emergency powers. They spent not one moment assessing the impact of their decisions to lock down against the effects of the lockdown. They ignored information questioning the value of lockdown. They turned topsy-turvy the idea in a free society the burden of proof is on those who would restrict freedom and not on those who resist such restrictions.

    They were aided in manufacturing learned helplessness by the most sophisticated propaganda operation ever created. Already engorged with the coin of three years of fake news, the legacy media saw the value of a new crisis toward their two real goals: make as much money as possible garnering clicks, and defeating Donald Trump. Previous shows, Russiagate with a hat tip to 9/11 when Americans demanded fewer freedoms to feel safer, illustrated the way. On a 24/7 basis America were injected: you are helpless and Donald “COVID” Trump will kill you. Your only hope is to comply fully with the people at CNN who are administering the electric shocks.

    Truth is useless to propagandists, actually a threat. Look at what turned out to be false (in addition to Russiagate): we never ran out of ventilators or PPE or nurses or ICU beds or morgues. Masks were not really needed outdoors. We did in fact develop a vaccine, several in fact, in less than a year. Almost everyone who died was elderly or had serious comorbidities but we salivated over “new case numbers” as the primary metric anyway because they went up so much faster. When people questioned the real world view against the media portrayal, they were told about “asymptomatic COVID” or shunned as hoaxers. Everyone makes mistakes. But just as with Russiagate, all the media mistakes swung one way.

    It worked. Condo boards boarded up their gyms. Restaurants forced diners to eat outside in the rain. Entire industries, such as tourism and hospitality, disappeared overnight. New groups were shoved into poverty and unemployment. Children were denied education, criminals released from jails. People were told not to hug their loved ones. Saving Grandma meant she died untouched in a hospital room. The government denied you the chance to say one final goodbye to the person who raised you and you didn’t fight back? Now that’s control.

    Every time a bit of dissenting information popped up — Florida opening its beaches for Spring Break, for example — the media rushed in to declare everyone was gonna die. Texas was declared dead, South Dakota was declared dead, and Americans believed it all even when reports of survivors started drifting out of Disney World. Learned helplessness is hard to unlearn. One Harvard professor explains our brains evolved to encode fear so well, it’s hard to turn off.

    Americans are not comfortable accepting their lives being manipulated at this level, the way for example many Russians assume it to be so. We tend to dismiss such things as conspiracy theories and make an Oliver Stone joke. But ask yourself how many of the temporary security and surveillance measures enacted after 9/11 are still controlling our lives almost 20 years later. Is the terror threat still so real the FBI needs to monitor our social media in bulk? Was it ever?

    Nothing here is to say vaccines don’t work, or are themselves dangerous. That’s another debate. This is about the politics of mass control. Add up the “doesn’t really make sense but we do it anyway” COVID rules and try to make sense of them. Why would otherwise smart leaders implement such rules, for example in New York’s case, purposely impoverishing a city or seeking to defund the police in the midst of triple digit rises in crime? Every time your answer is “it just doesn’t make sense” consider a scenario beyond coincidence where it would make sense however out there that might be. It might be the most important thing you can do.

    Then look out the window. Remember “10 days to flatten the curve?” With no voting or debate, a system based on a medical procedure capable of controlling our travel, which businesses we can visit, which hotels we can stay in, what jobs we can hold, what education we can access, at which point it is no more “voluntary” than breathing, was put into place. We no longer need to ask what is happening. The real question is always why.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Black Men Are Dying in New York Like Their Lives Don’t Matter

    May 15, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy, Economy

     

    Black men are systemically shot and killed in New York City and no one seems to care because the triggers aren’t pulled by cops. If you say discussing this is a distraction from racism, you do it from atop a lot of graves. And how can anyone say that doesn’t matter?

     

    Begin by asking how many are dying in New York, who is dying, who is doing the killing, where is it taking place, and why. The context is New York City saw its bloodiest week in late April with 46 separate shooting incidents, a 300 percent surge from the same week in 2020. These shootings were part of a 205 percent overall increase in shootings in NYC in 2020, the bloodiest toll since 1996. The body count continued to rise in early May.

    Who is dying? Some 65 percent of homicide victims are black, though they make up less than quarter of the city’s population. In the unsuccessful homicides, e.g. “shootings,” blacks are over 70 percent of the victims. The dead include more and more young people. In the first half of 2020, 53 persons under 18-years-old were shot versus 37 during the same period a year earlier. Additionally, there have been 215 shooting victims ages 18-24 during the same period versus 125 in 2019. This is because it is gang-related activity that is driving the shootings in the city. Over 90 percent of black homicide victims were killed by other blacks, not by white supremacists or cops.

    In 2020 290 black people were murdered and over 1000 were shot, almost all by other blacks. By comparison, only five of the 20 years of the Afghan war killed more Americans in a year. In further comparison, in 2020 the New York City police killed five blacks. You have to wonder which pile of bodies is really the distraction and which is really the more serious problem. This is what a systemic problem actually looks like.

     

    A disproportionate number of the killings and shootings take place inside the vast public housing world of New York City, the 2,602 buildings controlled by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) There are 334 developments which fill an area three times the size of Central Park. Because there are so many people living “off-lease,” no one knows the actual NYCHA population, but it is believed to be over 600,000. If NYCHA were its own city, it would have about the same population as Boston. While much of the public housing is in “bad” parts of town, not all of it is. The housing was built largely on NYC-owned and available land and was championed by wealthy liberals in the 1950s and 60s. Some of NYCHA’s worst residences sit across the street from million dollar condos on the Upper East Side.

    New York in general, and NYCHA in the specific, is simultaneously one of the most diverse places in America and the most segregated. About 27 percent of the city’s households in poverty are white, but less then five percent of NYCHA households are white. In contrast, blacks account for about a fourth of the city’s households in poverty but occupy 45 percent of NYCHA units. But even that does not tell the real tale. NYCHA is segregated building-by-building. Rutland Towers in East Flatbush is 94.9 percent black. Though Asians make up less then five percent of the overall NYCHA population, the La Guardia Addition at Two Bridges is 70 percent Asian.

    NYCHA is also a very dangerous world. The NYPD counted 59 homicides in NYCHA properties in 2020, up 41 percent in 2019. The murder rate is far worse in the projects than elsewhere. As of late 2020, the projects had seen 15.5 homicides per 100,000 people, compared to only four per 100,000 elsewhere in the city. Police counted 257 shooting incidents in NYCHA projects in 2020, a 92 percent increase over 2019. Some 67 shootings were reported per 100,000 NYCHA residents, compared to 12 per 100,000 in the rest of the city.

    The vast majority of these shootings are gang related, the gangs involved in some of the worst locations are mostly black, and the beef is over control of turf to sell drugs inside the city’s vast gulag archipelago of public housing. The mayor’s office both acknowledges and sidesteps this uncomfortable truth by blaming the shootings on “interpersonal beefs.” Worried about the Thin Blue Line, when cops won’t testify against other cops? Try finding a witness inside the projects for a black-on-black gang killing.

     

    It wasn’t always this way. The last time NYC saw a decrease in crime was in 1993 after black Mayor David Dinkins implemented a “quality of life” initiative. This set the stage for what came to be known as “broken windows” policing. It posits minor infractions such as graffiti, panhandling, and public urination create disorder which, when left unchecked, gives the impression crime is tolerated. Aggressively punishing minor crimes creates a perceived intolerance of crime, thereby lowering serious crime.

    The numbers support this. New York City experienced a steep decline in homicides from 1990 to 1999. Homicides peaked in 1991 with a mean of 22 homicides per 100,000 people, and fell to a low of slightly more than four per 100,000 in 1998.

    Everything changed with the 2014 election of current Mayor Bill De Blasio, who did away with broken window policing, and specifically outlawed the liberal use of stop and search tactics by the police. In the wake of BLM, New York also stopped locking people up for many crimes where they had previously been held for bail, and cut back on undercover and special police units.

    Following these changes, complaints about discriminatory policing went down. But violent crime went up. Persons released under bail reform went on to commit 299 additional major crimes last year.

    Since lived experience is so important today, before De Blasio changed policing policy, I could walk my dog through a nearby NYCHA complex. No one was gracious, but I was left alone. Today if I go to the same place a young black man will soon pop out to ask “You buying?” and when I say no he’ll growl “Get the f*ck outta here” in reply.

    These NYCHA islands, once thought to be the solution, are now incubators of the problem. We can argue over why they exist, but only in the face of how absolutely nothing that has been tried over decades has made a significant change. The deaths of young black people persist. It has proved near impossible to provide incentives that out do what the gangs offer, including quick money, access to drugs, a sense of belonging, a lifestyle promoted by hip hop music, and protection from other gangs. That’s needed today more than ever as the police withdraw (this year the NYPD saw an 75 percent increase in departures and retirements, the loss of over 5,300 cops.)

    We have been squawking about longer term solutions for decades, with NYC providing one of the most comprehensive menus of such ideas in the nation — near free housing, education, internships, public medical care, benefits to mothers and children, before and after school programs, pre-K, school breakfasts and lunches, college scholarships, help centers, free or reduced cost public transportation, renaming, canceled statues, and on and on. There is little of the lives of the people affected in New York that has not been touched in an effort to fix something.

    The standard progressive response to white people talking about black-on-black killings is that it is a distraction from the real issues, a trick of misdirection, a way to minimize the real problem of police killings. That ignores the harsh light; the score in NYC is 290 dead in black-on-black homicide to five killed by the cops. You bandage all wounds, but start with the one most life-threatening.

    Another argument is blacks already talk plenty among themselves about intra-racial violence and that’s enough. But it’s our city, too. We all live here, and sorry to break the narrative, but many of us care for others beyond ourselves. We can also talk about more than one thing at a time, especially if the media, politicians, and black “leaders” will give us the room to do so and stop trying to shut down the dialogue to keep the wound open.

    Whites talking about black violence isn’t a palliative for other violence but an acknowledgement complex problems exist which cannot be solved by ignoring some things, and dismissing others with argument-ending pronouncements of racism and systemic bias, now reduced even further to code words like “1619.” The job is pretty easy when you blame everything on one thing, racism, as if it was really that simple.

    Yet while we wait for all this to be sorted out, the young black men of NYCHA seem to face our choice between aggressive (“discriminatory”) policing which lands many them raw in jail even as it saves lives, or lite policing which allows young blacks to kill other young blacks as they wish. It’s almost as if their lives don’t matter when the politics of race are in play.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Fascism Americano

    May 8, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump

     

    If you were upset or frightened by Trump, or Leftist Biden, hold on. They’re amateur opportunists; just wait for the pros.

     

    Once only on social media, now commonplace among the legacy media, we encounter near-constant pleas to kill white people, or cancel them, or push them aside. A friend married to the same Asian woman for decades is cursed at as a fetishist. It is completely acceptable in our public discourse to say things like that.

     

    Coupled with the sentiments toward white people is a similar theme against men. Twitter from time to time will blurt out popular hashtags like #WorldWithoutMen, with Tweets that range between funny-not funny jokes about how women can get by with “more batteries” (i.e., vibrators) to outright calls for violence.

     

    Of course the rules of media, social and anti-social, say this is OK even as they punish those who say exactly the same things but change the target from white to black (racist) or men to women (misogynists.) As each outlet cuts out more and more dissenting voices, the anti-white, anti-male pieces expand and absorb more and more of the bandwidth. To push back is hard, given the increasing lack of access to platforms which are not protected by the 1A and their increasing dominance of time-mind space. Absent repeated attempts to create a legal version of dismissing “hate speech,” progressives have used economic power to create a de facto one outside the law. The hate they fight against however, seems to only flow one way.

     

    This trend follows naturally the one developed over the last four years, that if you hold certain opinions (such as vote Republican, support free speech, own a legal weapon) you are inherently wrong and evil, not just your ideas. You can’t be persuaded, and you are not worth listening to. This is merging with the political currents of our time, and candidates who bark as progressive employ similar language in their campaigns. Even America’s two whitest dads, Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama, demonize many of us as toxic. Image that, a human being being toxic based on the way he was born. There should be a term for that.

     

    There comes now a concurrent theme that because of all this, when bad things happen to white men, they deserve it. Persons who otherwise advocate for better bail and prison conditions become joyous at the thought of white men who attacked the Capitol being assaulted in prison. The same sounds were heard during the Trump administration whenever the media decided henchman so-and-so was going to jail (most never did) he would be abused in the showers, homophobic threats of rape presented as justice when done to Trump supporters.

     

    Many people are savvy enough to know Twitter is just acting out and its daily wallop of threats are without merit. We get the desire to out shock one’s competitors with claims “whites are a public health crisis” and the like. Stick and stones. We know it’s mostly bull from journalists who call themselves “wypipologists” to ignore.

     

    But that angry, hateful bull more and more rises up enough to cause someone to lose his livelihood over a misunderstood Facebook post from 10 years ago, or false testimony about rape that is given credibility by a slogan (#BelieveWomen.) It begins to look like this can make the jump from online to the real world with real world consequences. That does alarm people, even nice people willing to dismiss much as just rhetoric.

     

    There is great danger. Leaving Dr. King’s dream of a world where color does not matter, progressive America is purposefully seeking a return to circa-1950 when color mattered a lot. They believe they can control the monster this time, so that favoring color (or gender) means advantages at work and school for blacks, and whatever nibblers they can attract from the mountain of “people of color” who in many cases see little of themselves in black activism. The point is the new progressive world damn well intends to base things on the color of one’s skin, relying on the most simplistic definition of racism: if the percentage of blacks (mortgage holders, Harvard, jail) is different than the percentage of blacks in society, that means racism. No complications, no explanations. Conveniently, if you disagree, you’re a racist! This is an imposed ideology, pressed home as truth without much discussion on either side.

     

    Seeing color as an essential part of identity is what America spent 120 years fighting to get away from. The progressive reversal is little short of a confession that that idea, and all that followed it, including the civil rights movement, Dr. King, and our first black president, failed. The answer, it seems, is to declare a mass of Americans, those male and/or white, essentially in the way, and that they must be eliminated for others to progress. We will never otherwise get 13.4 percent of blacks into everything, they say as if that goal rivaled the moon shot in the national mind. That is not going to go over well.

     

    It’s ironic because this solution to what some consider an unfair advantage for whites is to recreate that unfair advantage for themselves. They are in fact validating the worst racist impulses — that color matters — and the worst version of a society, that there are only so many chances out there, never enough to go around, so our group will have to take some from your group. It takes nothing more than watching toddlers, or puppies, fighting over limited toys to know how that has to end.

     

    And there is what is frightening. Many people are smart enough to know when someone is just shouting hateful things with little means or intent to do much about it. But what about everyone else? We saw a taste of this in the election of Donald Trump. Democrats want to fob that off as a mistake, a one-time thing, powered by foreign intervention (and maybe, in private, a bad decision to run a bad candidate in Hillary.) Joe Biden was supposed to be the ideological palate cleanser. Unity and all that.

     

    But Biden is instead fanning the flames in slavish debt paying to the people who reluctantly voted for him. Open the borders! More support for quotas and “empowerment” in the law for one group over another! Reparations! And if you don’t agree, you’re a racist hater KKK Nazi. No dissent tolerated. As a white supremacist, you don’t need to be heard, you need to be punched.

     

    Biden is at best passively following a pre-written social justice agenda (who knows what he believes himself, or is even aware of), and counting on the complexity of how we vote and choose a president to re-elect his party. He ignores how lousy a candidate and how clumsy a president Trump was but yet who still polls high in defeat.

     

    It is best to look at Trump as version 1.0 of who we’ll elect someday. Trump said the right buzz words to a group of Americans who were disenfranchised, and did well with many others despite being crude and often embarrassing. But he dragged around too much baggage from decades of public life, and proved himself unable to keep from reflexively firing the staff needed to run a national campaign, never mind govern. He never learned, or even tried, to understand how to get things done in Washington, wasting time trying to impose his own odd business management model on the Deep State. His opposition was almost comical, sticking with a fully false Russian narrative for three years.

     

    But with eye toward how this has evolved among rightists in Europe, think about the next guy, or one after that, who is articulate and smart, who can turn the knob up or down as needed when addressing unemployed factory workers or angry suburbanites whose kids can’t get into a good school due to quotas, both groups worn weary by the rising taxes imposed to pay for the Democratic version of “justice,” both groups suffering from rising crime even as leaders call for defunding the police and making them more liable for individual lawsuits for doing their job. Would you expect something else, given a multi-year effort first to scold then to scapegoat half the population? Did people think no one would notice?

     

    Put that candidate into a future world where media which backstopped Biden is even more granular, where the big guys like CNN matter even less, and new platforms emerge to make Twitter and Facebook less significant. The media’s credibility is heading toward the bottom anyway; all but the most partisan can see the doubles-standards employed. Some 58 percent of us already think “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.” Media has collapsed into pure unapologetic simplistic advocacy journalism.

     

    The kind of Republican candidate likely to emerge from all this will promise to take charge, to force change backwards, and will manipulate the newly validated laws which say discrimination by race is what people want. He will find an audience grown larger by ham-handed Democratic efforts to impose a partisan flavor of social change against the majority will. He will be called a fascist or an authoritarian and he may be so, but he will also be seen as the least worst answer to a system that has swung way too far from center.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Afghanistan Mon Amour

    May 1, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Embassy/State, Iraq, Trump

    President Biden announced he will withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by September 11. That will end 20 years of a war which killed some 2,300 Americans, an unknown number of Afghans, and cost trillions of dollars to accomplish nothing.

    Biden speaks more plainly about failure than any previous president. “We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result. I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.” We’ll take Biden at his word for now. Best to focus on the good.

    So leave aside how Biden piggy-backed off Trump’s decision, roundly criticized, to negotiate with the Taliban, and how Trump’s own plans to withdraw troops were sabotaged by the Deep State, including the false claims Russians were paying bounties for dead Americans. This could have been over two years ago, same as it could have been over 10 years ago. But neither Bush nor Obama had the courage to do it, Hillary certainly would not have, Trump was stopped, and so the dirty work fell to Joe.

    Let’s also leave aside the inevitable as America runs for the exit (and this alone suggests Biden plans on being a one-term president, setting himself like this.) The puppet regime in Kabul will dissolve like paper in the rain. The only question is how ugly the Taliban takeover will be; will they just close schools or will they behead teachers on TV?

    We should leave aside the Bush decision to invade Afghanistan at all. Sure the 9/11 hijackers were mostly Saudi, but Afghanistan was such an easy target and Al Qaeda did have some training camps there. Of course the 9/11 hijackers trained in American flight schools but even Dick Cheney wouldn’t bomb those (Biden’s choice of 9/11/2021 as the withdrawal date is meant to support that original sin of a lie.) Revenge morphed into nation building, “democracy in a box” it was called, and so by late 2001 the framework of the 20 year war was set. At the next off ramp, Obama let David Petraeus, then waiting for someone to cast Tom Hanks in his biopic, talk him into a surge of 30,000 troops soon after he took home his Nobel Peace Prize, the most ironic reward since Henry Kissinger got his. The rest is history.

     

    The modern American way of war is well-defined. Go in without an endgame, quit when the political cost hits critical, and leave the people supposedly democratized or otherwise liberated to their fate (Newspeak: “author of their own future”) while we honor our wounded troops with a free breakfast at Denny’s. Biden’s good friend, John Kerry, is an easy target because of his famous statement in 1971 about Vietnam: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Turns out it’s pretty easy.

    (The last American solider to die in Afghanistan, as of today, is Javier Gutierrez. He was shot to death by an Afghan soldier after a disagreement.)

    Next unleash the pundits to write about lessons learned. Their usual pattern is we had good intentions but the Iraqis, Afghans, Vietnamese, Pakistanis, et al, just didn’t do their share and we should never repeat this kind of thing. Nobody talks much about inertia, bureaucratic cowardliness, endless war as a questionable prophylaxis against terrorism, the ugliness of staying in because you don’t know why you started and are afraid of what happens if you end it. The only people now whining about unfinished business are feminists who seem to believe Marines should die so girls don’t have to wear burkas.

     

    The key theme in all these lessons learned is how could we have ever known it would turn out this way?

    Even before it started the war had to fail. Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires, had beaten Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the Mughal Empire, various Persian Empires, the Sikhs, the British, and the mighty Red Army. What betting man would think the U.S. would end up any different? 

    Many knew the war would fail when it was back-burnered for an equally doomed jihad in Iraq in 2003. Or maybe it was when Bin Laden escaped Afghanistan, and again when he was killed 10 years after the initial U.S. invasion and yet the troops stayed on. Perhaps it was when SNL 20 years back did a skit about a suburban cocktail party that comes to a halt to celebrate the U.S. capture of Kandahar though no one knows exactly why it mattered, just that we won!

    Others foresaw the eventual failure upon the death of Pat Tilman, the NFL star who joined the Army post-9/11 only to die in a volley of friendly fire and Pentagon lies. Maybe it was after a Taliban IED tore apart State Department officer Anne Smedinghoff (say her name) while on a propaganda mission. Maybe it was in 2009 when former Marine Matthew Hoh resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan with the State Department over the war’s escalation. It could have been all those “feel good” media pieces about sons deploying to the same Afghan battlefields their fathers had served on.

    Or maybe when The Washington Post, long an advocate for all the wars everywhere, took a bruised penance publishing the Afghanistan Papers showing the government lied at every step. “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” wrote Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations. “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.” It’s a sordid trip down a street without joy, with little grace and less honor, last chapter just as bad as the first. FYI, America will mark the 50th anniversary of the Pentagon Papers this year.

    The final knowing point for me personally was in 2012. That was when, after having written a whistleblowing book on the failure of Iraq reconstruction and nation building, focusing on the carpetbaggers the U.S. hired to do most of the ground work, I began receiving requests for recommendations. The U.S. was hiring the same monkeys to work on the Afghan program.

    I responded to each inquiry with a short note and a draft copy of my book, only to find later in every case the person who had helped sink the U.S. effort in Iraq was rehired in Afghanistan. Ironically, the initial title for my book wasn’t the unwieldy We Meant Well: How I Lost the War for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People but Lessons for Afghanistan from the Reconstruction of Iraq. The publisher changed it, thinking the war in Afghanistan might be over before we hit the shelves almost a decade ago.

    Those with any sense of history saw Afghanistan (and Iraq for that matter) and heard echoes of Vietnam-Vietnam-Vietnam. Others looked back to a war where far more Americans were killed, some 35,000, where we stayed for 70 years without a peace treaty, with the North Korea we “beat” now a nuclear power. Yet politicians dared stand up in 2001 to say “we’ll get it right this time, trust us.” Who could have imagined nearly all Americans did answer “OK.” And then said OK again and again for 20 years even as their own sons and daughters came home dead, maimed or psychologically destroyed.

    Lessons learned? None at all. We’ll do it again just as Vietnam followed Korea, and Afghanistan followed Vietnam. Fathers whose hands shake with PTSD sent their sons off to the same fate. If that, that, can’t stop these pointless wars, nothing ever will. So, nothing ever will.

     

    We will do this again because failure has no such consequences for the decision makers. Bush is reborn as a cuddly old goof, Obama remembered as the bestest president ever. Trump is criticized both as a war monger and for talking about pulling back U.S. troops in the Middle East. The era’s senior leaders — Blinken, Rice, Power, Nuland — are now working in better jobs for Biden. I’d like to hope they have trouble sleeping at night, but I doubt it.

    In the classic 1959 film Hiroshima Mon Amour a Japanese man says to his French lover “You saw nothing in Hiroshima. Nothing.” His frustration is in the two being bystanders on opposite sides of a war where all sides were inherently evil. There is always in the background talk about justice. What justice will be available to the Americans who went to their God like soldiers in Afghanistan, the uncountable Afghans who died at our hands, the promises to the living of a better future all now reviled lies?

    There are still those nights it takes a fair amount of whisky to abort thoughts about why no one gets impeached for wasting lives. But for tonight at least I’ll fill a glass half empty so I can raise it to Joe, for finally, imperfectly, awfully, clumsily ending this mess, better late than forever.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • The Future is Hawaii

    April 24, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy, Economy


     

    I have seen the future. It looks a lot like Hawaii. What I saw there (absent the beautiful beaches, confused tourists, and incredible nature) was a glimpse of the future for much of America.

    COVID paved the way for internal travel restrictions — Americans moving around inside their own country — never before thought possible, or even constitutional. Hawaii, an American state, had to decide if they accepted American me, much as a foreign country controls its borders and decides which outsiders may enter.

    Hawaii required a very specific COVID test, from a “trusted partner” company they contract with, at the cost of $119 (no insurance accepted.) To drive home the Orwellian aspects of this all, after receiving the test kit I had to spit into the test tube during a Zoom call, some large head onscreen peeping into my bedroom watching to ensure it was indeed my spit. And now of course, after clicking Accept several times, my DNA information is in Hawaiian government hands along with whoever else’s name was buried in pages of Terms of Service. I was rewarded with the Scooby snack of an QR code on my phone.

    Hawaii used to offer the option of skipping the test and doing quarantine on-island. However, they now pre-screen at major airports and so no QR code, no boarding. And for those who don’t think good, today it’s a COVID test, tomorrow other criteria may be applied. Aloha!

    I will add that all the extra health screening at the airport made me a little nostalgic when I finally got to the bombs and weapons detecting set up by TSA. Just like the good old days when we worried about Muslim terrorists instead of each other turning our planes into flying death tubes, I was checked to make sure I was not carrying more than 3 ounces of shampoo. It felt… quaint to remove my shoes alongside everyone else, millions of pairs a day, all because some knucklehead failed to explode his shoe bomb and was subdued by other passengers 12 freaking years ago. For old times’ sake I prepared mentally to subdue my fellow cabin mates. The nostalgia was driven home as the TSA screener made everyone remove their mask for a moment to verify the face matched the ID picture except Muslim women, ensuring every non-Muslim woman passenger got to exhale a couple of COVID-era breaths into the crowd. Viva!

     

    The future in Hawaii strikes you as soon as you clear the airport into that beautiful Pacific air. It smells good in patches, but in fact there are growing masses of homeless people everywhere; the unsheltered homeless population is up 12 percent on Oahu. Coming from NYC I am certainly not surprised by the zombie armies, but these people live outside. You can’t escape them by surrendering control of the subway system, or by creating shelters in someone else’s neighborhood. The homeless here live in tents, some in gleefully third world shacks made of found materials, others in government-paid shanties creatively called “tiny houses.”

    Some make solo camp sites alone on the sidewalk, some create mini-Burning Man encampments in public parks. I’d like to say the latter resemble the migratory camps in Grapes of Wrath, but the Joad family could still afford an old jalopy and these people cannot. The Joads were also headed to find work; these people have burrowed in, with laundry hanging out, dogs running among the trash, rats and bugs happily exploring the host-parasite relationship. These folks stake out areas once full of tourists on Waikiki, and in public spaces once enjoyed more by locals. Drugs are a major problem and whether a homeless person will hassle you depends on which drug he favors, the kind that makes him aggressive or the kind that makes him sleep standing up at the bus stop.

    The future is built around the homeless, literally. My business was in the Kakaako area, once a warehouse district between Waikiki and downtown Honolulu, now home to a dozen or more 40 story condos. They are all built like fortresses against the homeless. Each tower sits on a pedestal with parking inside, such that the street view of most places is a four story wall. There is an entrance (with security) but in fact the “first floor” for us is already four floors above ground. Once you’re up there, the top of the pedestal usually features a pool, a garden, BBQ, kiddie play area, dog walking space, all safely out of reach from whatever ugly is going on down below.

    If you look out the windows from the upper, most expensive floors, you can see the ocean and sand but not the now tiny homeless people. They become invisible if you’re rich enough. Don’t be offended or shocked — what did you think runaway economic inequality was gonna end up doing to us? Macroeconomics isn’t a morality play. But for most of the wealthy the issue isn’t confronting the reality of inequality, it is navigating the society it has created. Never mind stuff like those bars on park benches that make it impossible to lay down. The architects in Kakaako have stepped it up.

    These heavily defended apartments can run lots of millions of dollars, with most owners either coming from the mainland U.S. or Asia. They will live a nice life. Most of them work elsewhere, or own businesses elsewhere, which is good, because the future in Hawaii does not look good for the 99 percent below. It’s inevitable in a society that is constantly adding to its homeless population while simultaneously lacking any comprehensive way to provide medical treatment, all the while smoothing over the bumps on the street with plentiful supplies of alcohol and opioids.

     

    Hawaii’s economy may be the future. Very little is made here. As making steel and cars left the Midwest in the late 2oth century, so did Hawaii’s old economy based on agriculture. It was cheaper to grow food elsewhere and import it to the mainland. The bulk of pineapple consumed in the United States now comes from Mexican, Central and South American growers same as steel now comes from China, and the few pineapple fields in Hawaii are for tourists. Hawaii now depends on two industries: tourism and defense spending. And both are controlled by government.

    Tourism accounts directly for 24 percent of the state’s economy, more if one factors in secondary spending. The industry currently does not exist in viable form, with arrivals down some 75 percent. Unemployment Hawaii-wide is 24 percent, much more if you add in those who long ago gave up looking or are underemployed frying burgers. Much is driven by COVID. Will those ever recede? No one knows. When might things get better? No one knows. The decisions which control lives are made largely in secret, by the governor or “scientists,” and are not subject to public debate or a state congressional vote. One imagines a Dickensonian kid in hula skirt asking “Please sir, may we have jobs?”

    Everyone knows Pearl Harbor, not only once a major tourist destination but also a part of direct Pentagon spending which pumps $7.2 billion into Hawaii’s economy, about 7.7 percent of the state’s GDP. Hawaii is second in the United States for the highest defense spending as a share of state GDP, and that’s just the overt stuff. Rumor has it the NSA has multiple facilities strewn around western Oahu with thousands of employees. All those government personnel, uniformed or covert, do a lot of personal spending in the local economy, much as they do in the shanty towns which ring American bases abroad. Everyone relies on local utilities like water, power, and sewers, and those bases need engineers, plumbers, electricians and others. Many are local residents either directly employed by DoD or working through contracts with private companies. The point is even more then tourism, this large sector of the economy is controlled by the government. At least they’re still working.

    Another important sector of the Hawaiian economy is also government controlled, those who live entirely on public benefits. Benefits in Hawaii are the highest in the nation, an average of $49,175 and untaxed. For the last 9 years Hawaii spent more on public welfare benefits, about 20 percent of the state budget, then it did on education. More than one out ten people in Hawaii get food stamps (SNAP), though the number is higher if you include free lunches at school and for the elderly. Fewer working people means fewer tax paying people, so this is unsustainable into the future.

    Who owns the future? The government in Hawaii owns the land. The Federal government owns about 20 percent of everything, and the state of Hawaii owns some 50 percent of the rest. Do Not Enter – U.S. Government Property signs are everywhere if you take a drive out of town. There are also plenty of private roads and gated communities to separate the rich from the poor, but the prize goes to Oracle owner Larry Ellison who owns almost the entire island of Lanai, serving as a gatekeeper inside another gatekeeper’s turf. For the rest of the people, homeownership rates in Hawaii are some of the lowest in the nation.

    The good news (for some…) is in the future whites will be a minority race in all of America. They already are in Hawaii. Asians not including Native Hawaiians make up 37 percent of the population, with whites tagging in at 25 percent. Local government, some 55 percent of the jobs, is dominated by people of Japanese heritage. Japanese heritage people also have the highest percentage of homeownership, 70 percent. Almost all have a high school diploma, and about a third have a four-year college degree.

    The well-loved mainland concept of “people of color” fades quickly in Hawaii, where Japanese color people are a majority over everyone else. And unlike in some minds, people in Hawaii are very aware that the concept of “Asian” is racist as hell, and know the differences among Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese. Things are such that local Caucasian and Hawaii Democratic Congressman Ed Case said he was an “Asian trapped in a white body” and meant it as, and was understood in Hawaii as, a good thing and was echoed by Case’s Japanese-American wife.

    White supremacy has clearly been defeated here, though I am not sure BLM would be happy with how that actually worked out without them. On a personal note, I will say as a white-identifying minority I was well-treated by the police and others. I was not forced to wear one of those goofy shirts or add an apostrophe to words while in Hawai’i against my cultural mores, so there may be hope yet in the future I saw.

     
     
     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Uncomfortable Truths, Justice, and George Floyd

    April 17, 2021 // 0 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy

     
     

    We ignore uncomfortable truths. The melding of the horrors of slavery with civil rights era lynchings with the killing of George Floyd, all wrapped in the means-what-you-want-it-to-mean of systemic racism, flirts with incitement to violence. It won’t fix anything but falling MSM circulation rates, but that’s sort of the point.

     

    Charles Blow in the NYT writes there is a direct line from disobedient slaves whipped in the 17th century to blacks lynched in the 1950s to George Floyd in 2021, cranked on Fentanyl, dying in restraint after trying to pass a phony $20 bill. America has gone from “the noose to the neck” he writes with as little understanding of anatomy as he has of history. Blow uses all of his high school creative writing class skills to make his lurid case; slave aren’t just whipped, it is black bodies that are punished and defiled. Blow writes of “the flaying of flesh, the human beings torn apart by hounds, the stiff bodies dangling from the stiff branch of a tree. The display was the thing. The theatrical production of pain, to the point of mutilation, was the thing. The transmission of trauma was the thing.”

     

    We heard pretty much the same thing during the late Trump era, when Blow and others brought up an incomplete retelling of Marion Sims’ surgeries on black women in the 1800s and the 1932 syphilis experiments on black men as reasons why modern POC should not take the COVID vaccine. Anger today is insufficient unless fanned by multipliers from the past until any means necessary is justified as overdue justice.

     

    Those are fighting words. They are meant to set the stage should that Minneapolis jury fail to satisfy the blood lust masquerading as a call for justice. But no one really wants justice per se, they want an eye for an eye. The certainty across America that cities will burn if the jury reaches the “wrong” conclusion makes clear that eye will be taken one way or another. A near-majority of Americans probably agree that it should be.

     

    The sad thing about what Blow writes (and obviously he is just an avatar who puts into words what many think) is the assumption of intent by the cops who killed George Floyd. Intent is a critical part of justice. What did you intend to do? It’s the difference between Murder One and lesser crimes such as manslaughter or even self-defense. Blow sees no such distinction because it was a cop and a black man. At an Upper West side cocktail party 40 floors from reality Blow would probably say the application of intent in such cases is racist itself if it saves a cop from the gallows.

     

    Within the horrors of slavery the intent was indeed to create ghoulish examples. Violence was a cruel tool of communication. Same for the ravages of the civil rights era, where Klansmen went out of their way to tell people they may have hung the wrong man for the rape of a white woman but no matter, they’re all the same. Same for the Freedom Riders; how many do we have to kill before ya’ll stay home? The violence was systemic, intentional, organized, and towards a common purpose of racial dominance. We share a sick history.

     

    But does any thinking person believe those Minneapolis police officers woke up one day with the intent, the desire, the plan, to kill whatever black man fate put into their hands? That they each personally wanted to send a signal to the world white power as exercised by uniformed cops, like modern day overseers, will keep blacks in their place? That in the chaos of that moment, ignited by Floyd’s own actions of taking drugs and passing funny money, a complex socio-racial-political drama was intentionally acted out?

     

    That is exactly what Blow, the MSM, and BLM want everyone to believe. They use every tool available to create that emotional narrative complete with an awkward martyr, from Blow’s dramatic prose to the media linking every white-on-black act of violence to a national supremacist conspiracy whilst ignoring black-on-black or any other violence. The job is to start a fire, and you can’t start a fire without a spark. If you don’t have one, create one.

     

    Each week we have a new national outrage to pull on that thread. Which thing is elevated is driven by the presence of good video, a clever hashtag, and the ease with which the tragedy can be linked to others. So the mass shooting in Atlanta zooms to first place because of the anti-Asian theme (which is not even true) while the mass shooting in Colorado fades quicker than a beer buzz. Americans have been conditioned to take the bait; in the cesspool my Facebook page has become it is easy to see the tide come in on an issue and then just as quickly go out. The same people upset about Russiagate last year were all about anti-Asian violence last week and have shifted to Floyd  with equal vitriol this week.

     

    Thought is not allowed. Apart from the crude techniques of deplatforming and canceling (thanks, @jack!) one trick is to disallow people who speak uncomfortable truths or propose counter-narratives. The disallow response usually starts with “as a…” with the commentator moving on to say “as a woman…” or “as a trans man…” and dismiss any other understanding of events because of an inability to have their lived experience. So what can I know about George Floyd, systemic racism, etc.? HuffPost has built an entire vertical around this, with various “as a…” people claiming their victimhood as birthright.

     

    As a human being, in reply I often cite education, the ability to learn about others’ lives through books, music, listening to people via documentaries or in real life. Isn’t that what all that stuff in the library is for anyway? But we dismiss education today as part of the same system of racism. We self-righteously allow tweeting mobs to ban books instead of allowing people to determine the value of ideas themselves. We do not want to be challenged. We want to believe emotional narratives, as people once did making up tales about angered gods who controlled the sun and tides. We should aspire to be better than our troglodyte ancestors or we will disappear with them.

     

    But if emotion is all that matters, and I am trying to reach those who value it over all else, here goes. My now-deceased father was a Holocaust survivor. He lived, and I exist, only because someone on his side of the family realized they had to risk everything and do sometimes not-so-good things to survive and get out. And for those who want to argue now that that doesn’t count because he didn’t suffer as much as someone else, well, then let’s talk more about how slavery was OK if the owner was a nice guy. I thought not, bro.
    For those who say I can’t understand, you cannot point to a more comprehensive example of systemic racism than the Holocaust, an explicit nation-state goal in our lifetimes to use industrial resources to eliminate an entire people. When I visited Germany a few years ago and was singled out for jay walking, should I have claimed anti-Semitism, told the cop my family story, demanded reparations? Or maybe just not jay walk?

     

     

    So let us talk uncomfortable truths. Of course reforms are needed, they always are. But the cop killings that dominate our mindspace are miniscule compared to the number of blacks who destroy themselves with drug abuse, the road Floyd was on. The number of police killings of blacks, however tragic, is a drop compared to the ocean of blacks killed by other blacks, never mind all the other murders America tallies. For example, the recent murder of a Capitol cop by a black nationalist received little coverage, and less political comment.

     

    There’s another uncomfortable truth about George Floyd. Floyd wasn’t at home eating breakfast when he died, nor was he dragged to the cops in chains. He broke the law to arrive at that terrible moment. Now that doesn’t justify his death, but know there was more than ideology which brought Floyd and those police officers together. Meanwhile, no evidence exists of systemic racism. The most compelling “proof” of anything systemic is some simplistic numerical totals, more blacks killed then whites, naïve in ignoring every other possible explanation. The pattern is so clear that if we avoid it there must be some reason.

     

    That reason is the use of deaths for political power and partisan gain. If you want to enflame people and drive voters, you focus on cop killings (now with video because people film attacks instead of stopping them) If you believe all black lives matter, you would focus on issues less politically useful but many times more deadly.

     

    Without victimhood to dismiss every problem as someone else’s fault, what would Charles Blow write about? Steps to make the patient well instead of prolonging the disease? Could he and the others switch to demanding more work directed toward unemployment, drugs, single parent families, kids who skip school, juvenile crimes, teenage moms, children shot in gangland crossfire, intergenerational dependency on public assistance, and personal responsibility? Or would he find something else he could blame on anonymous forces, something seemingly without a solution other than to keep voting for charlatans and buying newspapers from exploiters?

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • COVID Runs the 9/11 Playbook (Against You)(Again)

    April 10, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    After fanning COVID panic for a year, Democratic newsletter Salon admits it was all for partisan purposes: “Americans have been sucked into an all-or-nothing approach, with your choice of all or nothing depending largely on your partisan identity.”

    Salon continues “Trump’s rejection of sensible precautions caused many of his political opponents to run hard in the opposite direction, embracing the lockdowns as if they were a point of personal virtue and inherent good, instead of a temporary and deeply unpleasant measure necessary to contain the virus. Worse, liberals were so protective of lockdowns that even sensible criticisms were ignored, and liberals often acted like, well, cops. They often appeared more interested in lecturing people rather than empowering them through education. There was a lot of social media shaming for any social activity, no matter how safe it was. And in behaving this way, a lot of well-intentioned people made the pandemic much worse.”

    The Hill came to the same conclusion, confessing recently “Lockdowns don’t work: Remember 15 days to slow the spread? Well, since those fateful words were uttered, we have had a year of various efforts to slow down a virus that has an infection fatality rate of less than one percent. And what we have learned is that viruses are gonna virus. California, the United Kingdom, Florida and Sweden show the futility of lockdowns.” The Hill adds “The media is complicit in furthering the Panic… how you could die tomorrow, from a virus that kills virtually nobody healthy under the age of 70.”

    A study found no correlation between NYC subway ridership and COVID spikes. In other words, few people got sick riding in a poorly-ventilated metal tube with strangers, masked and unmasked, an admission that many of the so-called lifesaving precautions were mostly health theatre, rituals based on fear. It was easier to order people to stay home than to see if the woods really had bears in them.

    NY Magazine, after a year of scare stories about scary COVID variants taking over the world, now is running articles headlined “Maybe the Variants Aren’t So Scary After All.”

    The Atlantic wrote a year into the pandemic “Traditional and social media have been caught up in a cycle of shaming—made worse by being so unscientific and misguided.” They point out the nonsense of the response: “Cities closed parks even as they kept open indoor dining and gyms. Berkeley and the University of Massachusetts banned students from taking even solitary walks… pictures of people outdoors without masks draw reprimands, insults, and confident predictions of super-spreading—and yet few note when super-spreading fails to follow.”

    All but the most serf-like now know the response was partisan, on purpose. We know lockdowns have little effect on transmission even as they devaste people economically and psychologically. The response by government, unscientific and misguided, was encouraged by a media that correlated suffering with virtue, and pain with progress. The draconian measures taken were somewhere between merely ineffective and worse than the disease. If only somehow we could have known this a year ago and used it as a guide toward more prudent, focused, and balanced responses.

    If only we’d been able to see the disease wasn’t the hoax, the response was.

     

    As America reprogrammed into one big Crisis News Network, with every story reported with a flashlight held under the announcer’s chin, I first wrote on March 5, 2020 how COVID fear was being used to manipulate people. I said the reaction to the virus will result in long term damage to the nation well beyond the health effects of the virus. I wrote on March 10, 2020 how many of the same COVID-era tricks to create fear to drive policy were used when AIDS broke into the mainstream. On March 26, 2020 I explained how the same playbook (terrify the American people for partisan goals) was run on us after 9/11. I wrote a second article on how the “cure” of lockdown was going to be worse than the disease on March 31.

    I’m not bragging. The information was as obvious as you wanted it to be. For example, in October 2020 a group of infectious disease epidemiologists wrote the Great Barrington Declaration, laying out”grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of prevailing COVID policies” such as sweeping lockdowns. They were largely ignored, though US News found time to call them arrogant and recklessness in calling for “focused protection.” The nation was as intolerant of COVID dissent as it was of anti-war dissent in 2001.

    The playbook run against Americans with COVID (and 9/11, and AIDS, and…) goes back as far as 1984, the book, not the year. Orwell envisioned the need for a massive Ministry of Truth to create a state of fear among Americans, and then manipulate that fear into specific support and policy. In fact in 2020 all it took was an initial handful of deaths, some of what Orwell labeled prolefeed — worthless entertainment for the masses about whether calling COVID “Chinese flu” was racism — and a dash of sky-is-falling articles that piled on to existing anti-Trump night terrors.
    The goal is always to make fear of something the problem and then empowering government becomes the solution. You have to give things up for a safe society. It just is no longer practical to try to have freedom and security, you will have to choose. If you don’t wear a mask, you’re selfish; you’ve committed a crime against society. You purposely have endangered your masked, compliant neighbors. Substitute in “terrorism” if you like at this point.
    Fear is a powerful a tool for manipulation. It rubs raw on the fight or flight part of our lizard brain, especially when you involve family members as potential spreaders who want to kill grandma or as victims (grandma again.) Fear is also self-reinforcing. We feel embarrassed when we’ve been fooled into over-reacting, like when our friend made us jump, springing from his hiding place at a party. So after you sold off your stocks at a huge loss in March 2020 fearing a global depression that never came, you were ready with self-reinforcing gab instead of admitting fear drove you into a dumb financial decision. “Well, at least I had peace of mind” said many trying to justify a needless 30 percent capital loss.
    Fear of the virus can be shaped into fear Trump would find a way via incompetence to kill us all somehow. That made it easier to believe he would seriously suggest you inject bleach. The MSM told us the vaccines, the scientific answer to the virus, were being rushed through, that Trump would manipulate the approval process for political gain and release dangerous untested drugs. The MSM throttled the black community with racist claims about the vaccine, invoking the 1943 syphilis experiments during last year’s Summer of Racism. Of course none of the media admit blame for today’s resistance to the vaccine.
    The COVID fear playbook is nearly identical to the post-9/11 playbook, though kudos to those Bush officials who pulled it off in 2001 without the help of social media and only 3,000 dead. They turned Americans into such fearful creatures they stopped traveling, signed off on multiple wars, a torture regime, and the effective end of privacy in American life. We were conditioned to new precedents of control over personal decisions, civil life, freedom of movement and assembly, whole city lockdowns, education, and an increasing role for government and the military in health care. We became trained that when we saw something, we said something. Not unlike our modern mask patrols, rent-a-cops, and Karens demanding everyone stay back six feet, driven by things such as the Washington Post, which wrote “Every viewer who trusts the words of Earhardt or Hannity could well become a walking, breathing, droplet-spewing threat to the public.”

    It will be hard for people to let go of their fear; folks will be wearing masks for a long time because there is no end game. We learned that when lockdowns went from until the curve flattens to until the vaccine until, well, forever. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said  “Unless and until everyone in the world is vaccinated, then no one is really fully safe, because if the virus is out there and continuing to proliferate, it’s also going to be mutating.” COVID fear mongering will be around as long as it is a political asset and gone before it becomes a political liability.

    Too many good people died of COVID. Many of us have a personal tale of a friend or loved one. The news is still so full of COVID porn you’d think they were trying to convince us of something. But as we grieve equally all deaths, we must understand death was not invented in 2020. Hospitals are sadly full of people dying painfully every day. COVID deaths will soon enough be down to a mere fraction of the current count. Deaths from heart attacks, cancer, and car wrecks will not. We just won’t talk about them and we certainly won’t blame one political party over another for them.

    But if drama is indeed a currency in the pandemic, let me spend some. I have physically visited with my relatives and hugged them for the past year. Not only are we all still COVID-free, we have the honor of saying the government did not tell us how to live and love each other. It was Orwell himself who wrote “They’re afraid of love, ’cause love makes a world they can’t control.”

    Remember that for the next time. No government should be allowed to create a world of fear and isolation for its citizens, and no citizen should willingly demand that from a government.

     

     

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  • Asian Hate Crime or White Supremacy? No.

    April 3, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Trump

     

    Following yet another mass shooting in America (Atlanta, not Boulder or any others this week), we turn to the most important question: how it can be politicized?

    That means reflexively declaring the murders in Georgia a hate crime against Asians, triggered within a mentally ill white man by remarks Trump made months ago labeling COVID the “Wuhan Flu.” The women killed, with a mix of Korean and Chinese names, some of whom may have been American Citizens, simply are first turned into generic “Asians” by the media, and then ubiquitous victim-props of, well, Trump, white supremacy, maybe all Fox viewers. Of the eight shot, two, one-fourth, are not Asian at all and are quickly falling out of the media’s focal point as not tracking the narrative. Trump’s direct culpability may be grounds for another impeachment. The mass killing in Boulder, which appears mostly white-on-white, holds little interest for the nation.

    Kidding. Of course the anti-Asian hate crime politicization is wrong.

    What we should agree is the proper politicization is guns are simply too easy to obtain in America. While the media was focused on the three quarters of the victims who were Asian, working hard not to say something cliched as they gleefully mispronounced the “foreign” names (#SAYHERNAME, nah, too hard) and reaffirmed sex work and the trafficking that drives it are A-OK (the media sang a different song about rub ‘n tug joints when Patriots owner Robert Kraft was caught in one), they wasted valuable time not tracking down the gun store where the killer got his weapon. They skipped the interview with the owner in a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert tee saying he had followed all the regulations, or maybe the bad dude at the gun show in his QAnon fan gear saying there were already too many laws against gun ownership. This could have been followed by a long discussion about whether the killer used an “assault rifle” or a “military-style weapon” and whether his clothing was “tactical.”

    But that politicization would have meant leaving out the “this will keep happening until we get full socialized medicine, including mental health care” politicization. CNN would have wasted no time tracking down the killer’s neighbors, who would say either a) he was crazy as a drunk bedbug and everyone knew this was gonna happen someday or b) he was the quiet type, kept to himself, and that’s what worried them. Either way, had he lived in Sweden mental health care would have saved those poor Asians and any other races shot. With thoughts and prayers, we ask when will we learn, Chris, when will we learn? Back to you.

    The mental health politicization is a good one because it dovetails well with the dangers of social media (it used to be heavy metal and satanism) and white supremacy politicization. No doubt the killer posted more than cuddly kitten pictures on his social media. This would all be tracked down by some Social Media Hate Crimes Task Force who would no doubt locate some pretty odd stuff online (bonus points if it was Parler.) If the guy had any friends/followers, at least one of them would be flashing some sign which we would assured was a symbol of white supremacy, such as scratching his nose. The links would be clear: social media causes white supremacy. The problem with this one is the victims are really not that important to the narrative, just background players, and America is demanding a racial angle to loop Trump’s viral remarks in.

    Politicization in most any form also means the media can have fun being racist. Ignoring that many crimes against Asians appear to be perpetrated by blacks, the killer is not just white, he’s that kind of white — you know, the really bad kind, him being from the South, rocking that Joe Dirt cosplay look. And he was a Southern Baptist who told a roommate he worried about falling “out of God’s grace” for basically watching too much porn (bet it was the nasty stuff, too, not the good kind that encourages foreplay.) We all just know he has a confederate flag on his bumper, or tatted on his shoulder, or at least thought about getting one after he cashed his last welfare check whilst complaining about gay socialism.

    Some deep-thinking Op-Ed will call him a part of a “maligned minority to purchase firearms in the fear of worse to come as the pandemic deepens.” Sooner or later we’ll learn the killer was afraid of losing his high status as a white man, marked by a lifestyle that included cheap massage parlors and a flip phone. All followed by someone calling white people a “public health crisis” and another chiming in “White fragility is a disease, and it just killed six Asian women.”

    Every proper politicization benefits from a religious angle. So the NYT visited the killer’s church to reveal its “bylaws include a lengthy passage on marriage and sexuality that condemns ‘adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, polygamy, pedophilia, pornography, or any attempt to change one’s sex.'” And the Times dug deep to find the church’s lead pastor preached a sermon about gender roles in September, drawing on a biblical passage which instructs women to dress modestly and to “learn in quietness and full submission.” For those reading outside of Austin or the coasts, that’s all progressive code to say the killer’s natural sexual urges were warped as a child by some messed up religious doctrine which is why he killed people, just like all those raised in a conservative church eventually get around to doing. Had he only been allowed to attend more drag queen reading events things might have ended differently. Religion radicalized him, like with ISIS.

    To be fair, there is debate within the oppression olympics community over which politicization scheme is best employed. “People on here literally debating if this was a misogynistic attack against women or a racist attack against Asians,” tweeted the founder of an Asian-American feminist and pop culture blog. “What if — wait for it — it was both.” Others also tried for a rich word tapestry of blame, coming up with “racialized misogyny” and “male supremacist terrorism.” One prominent feminist author wrote “I don’t care that the shooter told police his attack wasn’t ‘racially-motivated.’ This was a racist misogynist crime.” She also said “we should sideline white male reporters when it comes to mass shootings because they obviously can’t be objective.” Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth agreed that the evidence be damned if it does not fit the storyline. She expressed doubts about FBI Director Chris Wray’s assessment that the shooting may not constitute a hate crime because “it looks racially motivated” to her from several hundred miles away.

    After admitting “very little is known about the motives of the Atlanta gunman,” the Times quickly added “but organizations that track hate crimes have paid increasing attention to misogyny as a ‘gateway drug’ to other types of extremism, such as violent racism” (for younger readers, the term “gateway drug” was last used seriously by anti-marijuana crusaders in the 1980s certain one joint would have you addicted to heroin within a week.) An organization which claims to be a “grassroots Chinese massage parlor worker coalition” tried for a Theory of Everything, stating “Whether or not they were actually sex workers or self-identified under that label, we know that as massage workers, they were subjected to sexualized violence stemming from the hatred of sex workers, Asian women, working class people, and immigrants.” The term for all this share-the-blame is “intersectionality” to deal with problems like racism and sexism that overlap to create Venn diagrams of social injustice and apparently endless commentary that itself is so full of hate.

    And if the story of the media creating a racist narrative t fit their needs sounds familiar, it is. Remember the Covington kids, whom the media cast without evidence as racist bullies who attacked an elderly Native American. It was not true, there was no evidence to support it and much to show it was wrong, but the MSM went on anyway, all the way to losing a defamation lawsuit, to show those white, Catholic, MAGA youth were the bad guys.

    And as if you needed more proof of how this works, pay attention to the relative lack of attention paid to the Boulder incident. Where are the rallies, the ethnic celebrities to tell us what to think? Is Biden enroute to Colorado to sing Amazing Grace? Unless the killer has a wacky manifesto in his closet, meh.

    Back in Atlanta, there seems little interest in weeping for the dead, unless that act too can be used for some political purpose amid more performance art journalism. The politicization of tragedies is so instant and so ingrained, even as the narrative shifts with popular whims, that it prevents us from ever understanding what really happened. Nowhere will we let this thing just be what it is, as if it is not terrible enough on its own, yet another mentally ill person in a violent, hateful, soulless, divided society.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Diversity Fail at State Department

    March 26, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State


    Politico just revealed a dirty little secret: the U.S. State Department was a more diverse workplace in 1986 than it is today. Despite efforts to recruit a more diverse pool of diplomats, the Department has failed miserably to promote them, and ultimately to retain them, even under Bill Clinton and Obama/Hillary.

    The Politico article does a comprehensive job of describing how the agency that represents America does not look like America. Minority staff made up 12.5 percent of employees at the end of the 1980s. Today black women make up nine percent, and just three percent of the Senior Foreign Service (the military equivalent of general) is black. And don’t fooled by statistics; we’re talking here about the Foreign Service, the elites, the diplomats. State will often intermix racial data from the Washington DC-based civil service, which is mostly minority people, to confuse outsiders.

    The Politico article, however, does a poor job of answering the question of why this is. It shows its 2021 bias with one solution “for more white men to miss out on recruitment or promotion.”

    State does have a diversity problem. It just is diversity of socio-economic class, not race or gender. State rarely imposes a quality standard on its work, meaning everyone’s job description is the same: just make your boss happy. That preserves the class system, and empowers those who would harass and discriminate.

     

    As a white man I was sort of part of a diversity program when I joined the State Department in 1988 for what turned out to be a 24 year career as a diplomat. State, from Thomas Jefferson’s tenure forward, followed a simple recruitment formula of “male, pale, and Yale.” In the late 1980s they decided male and pale (white) were good, but limiting recruitment to the Ivy League schools and their equivalents like Stanford and Georgetown was the problem. Someone found me and others like me at state schools and woosh, we were diversity-forward diplomats.

    But from Day One, with little change through today, it was clear not all pigs were equal. State divides its diplomatic work force into five specialities, known as cones. Only one matters in terms of a realistic shot at senior policy making roles, the Political cone. These people do what passes as traditional diplomacy. They and their work dominate the news and thus the Secretary of State’s world. The other cones fill in gaps and get hand-me-down senior promotions which are adequate in the Economic cone, down to nearly non-existent for the proletarian Consular cone that issues visas.

    Like at Hogwarts, new diplomats are sorted on entry to a cone which is very, very hard to change (seriously, the process is called a Snape-like “conal rectification.”) Ivy Leaguers can expect Political, kids from schools with good football teams Administration or Consular. All of this excludes political appointees, friends or large donors of the president who get appointed to the highest jobs without spending any time in the diplomatic corps.

    The Political cone, a club within the club, has proved porous enough for properly educated women. The key criteria is and has always been socio-economic background anyway, usually demonstrated by an Ivy diploma, not race or gender. The little climbing room for outsiders is provided by State-sponsored mid-career education, when a chosen few are sent off to Georgetown or the Kennedy School as midwestern losers to return two years later an honorary blue blood.

    The Government Accounting Office found among junior diplomats Ivy League grads had a 23 percent higher chance of promotion than colleagues with only a standard undergrad degree. And it is not just entry level diplomats and ambassadorships. Key internal positions like political and policy Assistant Secretaries are similar. Of course good old racism is still in the game when 87 percent of senior State Department personnel are white, compared with only three percent black. And of course the restrictive policies based on race, etc., at Ivy League schools means fewer “qualified” black people are produced for State to choose from, so the classic racism argument does apply indirectly. Just ask the Jews forbidden to attend Harvard who could not get into the State Department back in the day.

    What the successful diplomats in the Political cone seem to already know from Yale is what creates the full-spectrum lack of diversity. People call it The Code. Life is not fair, so best to have an advantage. Career success depends on the people above you and your relationship to them, and “trouble maker” is a bad one. Pleasing your betters is more effective then being right at a cost. There are rules, and if you do not know them you cannot follow them. And most of all, 99 percent of what matters is never written down. You are either trusted and welcomed into the circle or you are not.

    Advantages are everywhere, but usually start with who your parents are and which brand name professors you connected with in your brand-name college. The celebrity professor at Georgetown has close friends and former students for you to meet at State. The history teacher at Montana State, no. State has an up-or-out system, meaning almost all diplomatic new hires enter at the same bottom rung, and slowly advance over their careers upward. Somebody above you when you join is thus likely to stay above you for decades. There will not be any new blood flowing in. Make someone angry in 1990 in Taiwan and they’ll still be there waiting for you in 2010 in London. The people above you will write your performance reviews, sit on your promotion panels, and decide your assignments, all in private with little accountability, and all of which determine who sinks and swims. If you’re looking for the smoking gun on State’s diversity failure, for most of the past three decades most of that power was concentrated in one man, Ambassador Pat Kennedy (white, male, Georgetown) now retired.

    Those same people learned State is a change-adverse bureaucracy that likes things that way. Change at State is externally driven and internally resisted. The attitude at the top (except for public relations appearances, like making sure a few black folks are in public-facing positions) thinks the system has no need to change, it got it mostly right the first time. The proof is they themselve were promoted, and they saw their competitors stumble. People who want to do things different, make changes, etc., are generally shunned as troublemakers. The lack of interest in change is enhanced by the fact that State does little that can be objectively measured to allow someone to jump ahead. No sales figures, items sold, or stock prices to count toward promotion. Just exist for the most part, the details matter little except what your boss thinks.

     

    Here’s how that works in practice. No one does anything substantive alone at State. Most everything is a collaborative effort controlled by the clearance process. Say you write a report on metallurgy in India. You, the lowest on the rung, are directed to do this and you do all the heavy lifting gathering info and writing. Dozens of people above you, and depending on the subject that list can include people all the way up to the Secretary of State’s staff, then have to sign off, agree with you, “clear” your work. If one guy objects and won’t clear, your work cannot pass go to the next person until he is happy.

    If your report says basically the same thing as last year’s, that is safe and people clear it (one exception is if someone in the chain wants to make a political move and then directs you to come to a different conclusion, say to justify a budget increase as “matters have gotten worse.” You’re still just doing what you are told.) If you try and write something different from what you are told to write (often told implicitly, it is a skill to figure out what’s wanted because no one will jot down “Cook the data to match last year. Hope some reporter doesn’t see this. LOL.) your boss can’t clear it. If she is also a troublemaker and does clear, your work will likely just get stopped at a higher level, and that means a more important person will think you’re a troublemaker. Good bosses will thus try and protect their underlings by not clearing, keeping your problem inside the office.

    Absent any real measure of your work, your professional success is thus controlled by what State calls unofficially “corridor reputation,” basically what the people above you think of you. Imagine high school at the DMV. Careers are made or lost by a senior diplomat telling a peer “He’s OK, I’d bring him along” or “I heard he’s a problem, didn’t work out somehow in Beijing.” The official version of this is known as “lack of suitability,” a generic term which means you do not deserve a security clearance, or just can’t be trusted with the sensitive stuff.

    People in the right socio-economic groups seem to understand this stuff intuitively and, helped by others who think the same, get promoted. People from the wrong side of the tracks no matter their color do not understand the code so readily, and often are full of ambition to “make a mark.” They self-label themselves as not being part of the club and whether they know it or not, self-select out.

    So State can recruit all the people of color they can only to watch them slowly slide down the ladder along with lots of clueless whites who no one really cares about statistically. That is why many of both groups quit, or suffer in bureaucratic place to wait out pensions, and why State recruits minorities but cannot retain them. The result is a lack of diversity that has plagued the State Department for decades, both in race, and thinking.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • I Violated “Community Standards”!

    March 21, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Post-Constitution America

    Just as a marker on the road to the complete loss of freedom of speech as well as losing my mind, here is my full post Facebook deleted.

    Their anonymous censors stated the post below violates “community standards” and because of that I was forbidden from posting or commenting for 24 hours.

    Since anyone reading this is part of my “community,” I leave it here for you to judge.

     

     
     
     

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  • Is Everyone in Texas Dead Yet? (Why I Rarely Wear a Mask)

    March 19, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy


    Texas governor Greg Abbott announced residents will no longer be required to wear face masks and encouraged businesses to reopen at full capacity. Some 15 other states — Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Tennessee — also do not have mask orders in place. Still more states have thrown off almost all restrictions.

    Criticism of the Texas decision (there are not enough votes in the other states to warrant much criticism) was swift.  Joe “Unity” Biden called the unmasking the result of Neanderthal thinking. No less than photogenic loser Beto O’Rourke said the unmandate is a “death warrant” and “Abbott is killing the people of Texas.”

    We’ve seen this all before. About a year ago when Florida reopened its beaches for Spring Break everyone was gonna die. The Republican convention was to be a superspreader event, as was the Super Bowl, and some motorcycle rally (here’s a complete list of all superspreader events to include dinner parties for five.) Each new variant of the virus is the end of us, each expansion of dining options a death sentence. Everyone is gonna die. Except they don’t. It works the other way, too. Places proclaimed the Gold Standard for COVID precautions end up with their own upticks. The numbers from place to place should be as dramatically different as the measures implemented and they are not.

    As for Texas, the problem is again everyone there and in those other unmasked states is not dead. And in states with the most draconian rules and lockdowns (looking at you New York) people are still dying in healthy numbers. This all used to be the former president’s fault, but inconveniently more than one-fifth of all the COVID-19 deaths occurred since Biden took office. New York leads the nation in virus hospitalizations per one million people. If it were a country, New York would have been the worst performing country in the world at handling COVID, and that’s despite NY’s fraudulent undercounting. In late November, right before New York’s winter spike, Governor Cuo­mo trumpeted mask compliance was 98 percent. Seven out of 10 states with the highest number of COVID deaths per capita have mask mandates. California, formerly an example of the positive impacts of viral fascism, had among the worst winters in the world.

    A year’s worth of data (science!) from the four largest states shows lockdowns had little effect other than to drive taxpayers out. Making the pro-lockdown argument even weaker was that the same thing happened with several heavy lockdown nations (most notably the UK) suffering at least as badly, if not worse, than everyone else did. We’re left with something that too many people refuse to consider: it is possible lockdowns and masks have very little effect on COVID. Waves come and go, seemingly independent of what we do or don’t do. Nature finds a way.

     

    I’ve conducted my own sort-of research. In the last year, one of my relatives who is a medical professional was exposed to COVID. She tests negative regularly. I see her in person whenever I can, hug her, we eat together unmasked as a baby’s behind.  And we live in NYC, ground zero, again, this time for COVID. I use public transportation.  Until when the company was forced to shut down by the government, in my day job I worked with people from all over, including enough Chinese from China to fill a Seuss book. In the last few months I was hospitalized twice (heart, not COVID) and saw doctors as an outpatient multiple times.  I went to the gym until it the government closed it. I ate in restaurants and shopped until the government closed them. I stayed in a hotel and drove a rental car in two different states. I attended what the media would have called a superspreader event if it hadn’t been organized by Democrats. I wear a mask only when the hassle factor from the scolds, Karens, and COVID cops rises to the point I can’t get whatever I’m doing done.

    I took two long airplane trips. No one had any idea if anyone was infected because the only check was a questionnaire and a temp with no medical training with a temp gun. Waiting a few minutes to board we were aggressively kept six feet apart (while the A/C and ventilation was moving air six feet away toward me) before sitting down for hours zero feet apart. Once at altitude, we were encouraged to spread out but only within our paid for cabin; the nearly empty business and first class sections stayed nearly empty and we all concentrated in the same cabin and used the same toilets. Drinks and then meals were served to the whole cabin at once, meaning everyone removed their masks to breathe recycled air in and out for the same 40 minutes. In the scrum to get off the plane we were literally pressed against each other. I haven’t heard from the airline through its contact notification system that anyone got sick.

    The experience was not that different from using the NYC subway, which never shut down throughout the COVID emergency. But there was no need; a recent study shows riding in a poorly ventilated metal tube with often unmasked strangers and no social distancing demonstrated no correlation between NYC subway ridership and COVID spikes. If you weren’t going to get sick that way, you are not going to get sick in most others. The lifesaving precautions were mostly health theatre, stopping infections that never were going to happen the same as TSA stopped terror acts that never existed outside some kid’s Facebook.

    My experience of not dying from COVID is not unique. It is shared by some 327,500,000 Americans.

    Someone will post a quickly Googled document saying all this is wrong. Maybe. But it seems the questions around the value of masks and lockdowns are worth at least some discussion instead of being dismissed as Neanderthal. Follow the science we are told, even as the decisions which control our lives are made by self-serving politicians and not scientists. We have 50 different “solutions” to the same problem. They can’t all be correct, yet we assume one variety is and the other is not, even when faced with contrary data.

     

    Live TV tickers count COVID deaths. Yet we ignore the deadly psychological effect the “solutions” have on our society. While there exists room for discussion on some topics, here’s one that is both indisputable and unconscionable: kids are dying because of what we are doing.

    Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24. Since the pandemic began, the CDC reports the proportion of pediatric emergency room visits for mental health increased 31 percent. Reasons include isolation from friends and family, and the effects of parental stress and economic hardship. Government for the most part controls those factors, making conditions worse for children while providing ambiguous protection against the virus. Schools in many areas have been closed for a year, even though the political guidance finally matches what doctors have long been saying: if schools follow basic public health precautions, there is very low spread of COVID.

    A peer-reviewed study found “social distance and security measures have affected the relationship among people and their perception of empathy toward others.” That science (!) concludes “a careful evaluation of the potential benefits of the quarantine is needed, taking into account the high psychological costs.” The WHO found “economic and social disruption caused by the pandemic is devastating, with tens of millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty.” In the United States, that poverty risk is fully government-made, based on sweeping non-science based decisions to unemploy people by decree, and make them subject to surviving on unemployment payouts and stimulus check handouts. As for the future, the National Institutes of Health warns “the impact of long-term school closure is yet to be seen.” The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association acknowledges “an escalating crisis.” Other studies speak of a “lost generation.” Domestic violence is up. Drug overdoses are up. Crime is up. Academic performance has tanked. Our elderly die alone, unvisitable, in solitary confinement.

    Our nation has been suckered into ignoring a tormenting real public mental health crisis in favor of slapped together efforts at social distancing based on as much political as scientific factors (the mayor of NYC is more concerned about “racial equity” in locating vaccination centers then in how many shots can be administered.) False heroes and villains are created to buttress the argument. No one is allowed to seek the calculus, the balance, of prudent protections versus recognizing the cure is worse than the disease. We are literally destroying our society believing we are saving it. Too many are convinced there is zero doubt there is a significant positive result from taking away basic freedoms.

    It’s troubling when people decide I must be making a political statement, or am a QAnon member, unmasked. You wear a mask, or hang garlic on your belt if you wish. I’ll get vaccinated when politicians make it easier to get an appointment than front row Springsteen tickets. I do not want to die this year. I don’t want to kill you. But I keep thinking critically and asking questions at a time when I fear too many have either stopped.

    COVID solutions and lockdowns have not lead to limits on death. They have tanked the economy and brutalized the people. There is a lot more going on here than inconvenience over wearing a mask. The answers, rationale thinking and vaccinations, are elusive.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • What Keeps Canada Safe at Night? Joe Biden?

    March 12, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Biden, Democracy, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Military, Syria

     

    We know what keeps America safe at night — rough men on the walls stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm, duh. But what about Canada? Or say, Cambodia or Bolivia?

    This is by way of trying to figure out why Joe Biden bombed Syria and derailed the resumption of the Iran nuclear accord, and why he has called off, delayed, or stalled further withdrawals from the places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria along the bloody trail of the old Global War of Terror. Canada (along with Cambodia, Bolivia and most others) never sent any of their rough men to most of those places to begin with, absent Afghanistan where some Canadian forces were deployed until 2014, a long 7 years ago. The peak was only about 2,000 soldiers anyway. Canada maintains a handful of small foreign outposts, mostly to handle logistics. They’re not fighting anyone anywhere.

    The U.S. famously has some 800 bases strewn around the globe, with troops in 150 countries, and boasts its special forces during any given week are deployed in 82 nations. Many of those Sneaky Pete’s are killing people in those places without the knowledge of the “host” country. Last year they operated in 72 percent of the nations on this planet, including 13 African nations. Can you name them? Why were Americans risking their lives in Burkina Faso? So we can sleep better?

     

    Few expected much from Joe Biden foreign policy wise, and he has delivered. About a month into office he bombed Syria. The ostensible justification was the target was not “Syrian” but 22 people associated with Iran. Militias in Iraq allegedly under Iran’s control killed an American contractor in Erbil so the bombing in Syria was retaliation for that. This was not only supposed to be a legal, moral, and ethical act by the Home of Democracy (c), it was supposed to have accomplished something toward Americans being safer. It did not; a U.S. airbase in Iraq was rocketed a few days later.

    Imagine Chinese aircraft flying halfway around the world and killing 22 people in Detroit in retaliation for something that happened in, wherever, Thailand. That OK? Whatever nations are looking to China for “leadership” (one of the things Biden was to restore after Trump broke it) might not be sure. China is an interesting example, because they did not retaliate against the United States for bombing their embassy in the former Yugoslavia in 1999. As in 1988 when an American cruiser shot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board, Washington just said it was a mistake so no retaliation was necessary. The world is encouraged to accept America alone does bad things for good reasons. Or no reason at all. Talk about uniqueness.

    If I thought like a Canadian, I would find it difficult to understand why the U.S. has to fight everyone. It is very hard to imagine America has enemies who need killing in 72 percent of the nations on earth. Or maybe not — after decades of invading, bombing, and regime changing, maybe they really do hate us. The relationship between the U.S. bombing people and people not caring for the U.S. seems unclear to Joe Biden and most of his predecessors, however.

    Thinking like an American, the ostensible reason for all this bombing seems to be Hitler. He’s why we couldn’t support Trump’s nuclear diplomacy with North Korea and no other president has even tried for 20 years, and why Biden seems reluctant to revive the Iran nuclear accord. In 1938 olde timey British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain got hoodwinked by Hitler. No American president wants to be Neville Chamberlain. So every bad guy in the world, whether Slobo Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Un, Vladimir Putin, Muammar Gaddafi, Bashar Assad, the cabal that runs Iran, Hugo Chavez, Castro even dead, is Hitler.

    It follows every friction point is Munich 1938 and the only way to deal with it without appearing Chamberlain-level weak is to attack just one more country. When actual fighting cannot be on the table, presidents are content with crippling sanctions, a kind of economic Guantanamo, as have been in place against Cuba since about when the Beatles first came to America, before that with North Korea, and since roller disco was popular in the case of Iran.

     

    It works for us, at least as far as politicians are concerned. They don’t look like Neville Chamberlain. They hardly ever suffer any consequences. There is absolutely no demanding of accountability (the new Washington watch word) for any act of war committed by any American president, including those who lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and created a global torture system the actual Hitler would have been happy to have franchised. Foreign policy in general is not a constraint on policymakers, because most of the public doesn’t care about it (quick, find Burkina Faso on a map.) Those that do care usually are pretty supportive of America’s wars, love the troops and all that. Washington and the media help out, spending most of a decade messaging “we have to be at war” post-9/11 for example, and that poo stain doesn’t wash out easy. The thing that finally turned the country against the Vietnam War, the draft of nice white middle class kids, is gone. Also gone are the waves of body bags, as much of modern killing is death from way above.

    The other reasons Joe Biden bombed Syria are equally familiar and equally false. We have backed away from “we need to protect the oil” since the first Bush Gulf War in 1991 though the phrase had a good run. Still out there is some version of “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” No one has invaded the U.S. since 1812, and when push came to shove on 9/11 a bunch of guys with box cutters worked around the $305.4 billion 2001 military budget. People on the left used to talk about “The American Empire” but even that has turned out to be pretty weak; we don’t imperially profit by raping conquered lands as a proper empire does. Where is our Raj? Our Opium War? Our rubber plantations and breadfruit farms? America got no oil from Iraq and no minerals from Afghanistan.

    We instead mostly wreck places (Libya and Vietnam come to mind) and then abandon them, or grab a little land for yet another overseas base. Americans sometimes talk like it’s all a great game of Risk, but war to simply grab resources and territory isn’t how things have worked for a long time. Other justifications? Ask any still living Iraqi how “spreading democracy” worked out. Stopping various genocides comes up from time to time, though when a real one came along in Rwanda the U.S. wasn’t up for it. And, oh yeah, Biden is the leader of the free world. Was there a vote, because if so it’s likely Andrea Merkel would have won. Did American get tasked by all other good countries to protect them, as if Canada couldn’t build a nuke if it wanted one and who is threatening them anyway? The Canadian military could invade Burkina Faso if they wished to. They just don’t wish to.

    The fall back justification since 1945 has been the myth that the U.S. is engaged in some global muscle-tussle to be the most powerfulist place. It used to be just Russia, but lately China seems to be the one we imagine challenging us everywhere while still owning the largest foreign share of American debt and making nearly everything sold in our stores. When was the last time China shot at us, never mind invaded us? Some may even remember we already defeated globalist Russia once before (Google “the Cold War, we won.”)

    Military spending does absorb over half of the federal government’s discretionary budget, meaning more money is spent on the Pentagon than on schools, infrastructure, climate, research, and diplomacy combined, so that may also have something to do with all this. Fun fact: in addition to leading the world in bombing, America is also the leading global arms dealer.

     

    Most of Joe Biden’s foreign policy team are brutalist left-overs from the Obama administration, the one that invaded Libya and set the ball rolling in Syria and Ukraine. They’re needed in 2021 about as much as mimes at a funeral. Head of the gang is Victoria Nuland, who worked to start her own war in Ukraine a few years ago. Supporting her are Tony “Global Policeman” Blinken and Susan Rice, she of invading Libya fame.  Maybe they and the others of the Class of 2016 will finally have those full-on wars  have always wanted but a stronger president like Obama sort of resisted. Bloody Nuland says more wars are basically a requirement. She co-wrote an article titled “Superpowers Don’t Get To Retire,” proclaiming “there is no democratic superpower waiting in the wings to save the world if this democratic superpower falters.” With policy friends like this, it’s clear why Biden bombed Syria and will do more of that kind of thing as opportunities arise.

    “America is back,” Biden bleats at every opportunity. What that means America is back to business as usual, and that means people abroad are gonna die. Blame Canada.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Running Biden vs. Governing Biden (Pick One)

    March 6, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump


    Joe Biden and the Democrats did OK getting elected. When do they plan to start the governing part?

    Everyone was supposed to calm down once Uncle Joe took office. Good old Joe. CNN got it, running an article about how Joe plays Mario Kart with the grandkids, has a nice non-dumpster wood fire in the Oval Office, and goes to bed early. Politico ran a hard-biting piece on how “the first couple’s romantic gestures aren’t just genuine — they’re restorative.” Mr. Rogers with some PDA. A lot of familiar people are in the cabinet and mid-level positions. It’s almost as if it is 2016 again. Safe, happy 2016. But better, as we now also have Kamala (remember her, the first ever this-and-that vice president?)

    It’s nice. But the governing part is off to a slow start. Congress has been busy, albeit with another failed impeachment trial (counting Russiagate/Mueller, let’s call it impeachment shot in the dark III) of a guy who is not even president anymore, with a 9/11 style commission apparently to follow. At his Senate hearing the nominee for Attorney General was goaded into agreeing to some sort of additional investigation. “Hold him accountable” people say. Well, he lost the election, that’s pretty accountable. And why not — hearings are scheduled for the Postmaster General, whose days in the job are numbered, about why maybe some mail-in ballots might have been delivered late on accidental purpose five months ago.

    Trump nostalgia? No, keep fear alive seems to be the driver. For the first time in history the Capitol has a non-scalable fence enclosing it, and the Kapitol Kops are asking that the barbed wire stay in place until September “while authorities work to track down threats.” The National Guard is on near-permanent assignment (cost to date $480 million) on the Hill for no apparent reason other than to give directions to a few lost tourists. Political theatre, re-election stunts. A waste of time when the clock is running so hard against us.

    Because if we accept the Democratic/MSM campaign premise Trump nearly destroyed America, then this is a time of great urgency, life or death stuff. Things need fixing. But not that you’d know watching Biden and his Democratic Congress run the partisan table while the real problems sit like grandma in a Cuomo nursing home.

     

    Let’s see what the Democrats, in full control of Congress, are really up to. They haven’t been in such a position of power since 2008 during First Obama, and they know it. Their solution to fix America? Stamp out the opposition ahead of the 2022 midterms.

    Start with a mess ‘o politically driven Executive Orders canceling Trump. No more Muslim ban! Yea, except nobody can travel anyway because of COVID. Except of course everybody along the Mexican border with hazy asylum claims, whom Biden is fast tracking into America. Business travel from Europe, hmmm, dangerous, but anyone living in a tent outside El Paso, bienvenido.

    So it’s no surprise the first major legislation the Democratic Congress is to take up is an amnesty to transform the 11 million illegal immigrants who have collected in the U.S. since the last amnesty into 11 million new Democrats, er, citizens, within eight years (i.e., the next next presidential election but it may not matter because climate czar John “Muppet Lurch” Kerry says we only have 9 years left to live) The bill includes $4 billion to boost economic development in Latin American countries, which are not in the unemployed United States. Viva!

    Elsewhere the House wants reparations for slavery ended 150 years ago because that will fix everything on TV. The military has been restocked with transpeople. In another game-changing Executive Order, Biden revoked Trump’s E.O. creating an apprenticeship program paid for by industry to be replaced by one paid for by the Federal government which will favor the unions Dems need to be re-elected. President Biden has shown real concern for the people of Texas, hit by natural disaster, by ignoring them. The Dems in general are no longer demanding Ted Cruz leave the state forever but return to it to stop the blizzards. Outside of the halls of Congress, Democrats are trying to cancel conservative media from major cable providers.

    But the real hot button issue is finding a way an Executive Order can wipe out trillions of dollars of student loan debt without any thought to the broader economic consequences of such a decision and without reforming the way higher education is funded going forward. Because giving out free temporary debt relief is a primary function of government, some clause or amendment they talked about in civics class the day everybody faked being sick to go to the KISS concert. The Dems haven’t (yet) gone as far as nominating the corpse of Ruth Bader Ginsburg back to the bench but keep an eye on the news.

     

    What about America’s real issues? Stuff like COVID vaccine availability, the economic and social effect of lockdowns (San Francisco kids are committing suicide at an alarming rate, in New York as well, but at least they’re not in cages), unemployment (millions of people are forbidden from earning a living by their government), maybe the crumbling infrastructure. Or lockdown-driven drug overdoses, with deaths 3x those from COVID in San Francisco. The solution so far? Not school openings, because the Dems owe the teachers unions big time for their votes. Most of Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion Coronavirus Relief Bill has little to do with public health; only 1 percent is allotted to the vaccine. Biden even said after whooping COVID, he is going after cancer. But for now here’s $1400 bucks, knock yourselves out, buy Gamestop.

    Remember foreign policy? Joe said recently “diplomacy is back” so, well, OK then. Iran still needs tending to and says we’re moving too slow. Russia must be up to something. Word is China is a big dealio. Anything? Bueller? All we’ve gotten so far is a non-decision to not follow through on Trump’s troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and elsewhere along the failed path of the Global War of Terror. We all know we do have Susan Rice’s next bright idea to look forward to. One hears Libya needs re-liberating.

    Everyone knows it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. The problem is the Dems have chosen to only do one, not attempt both.

     

    On the other hand, think about how this might play in the midterms. Obama made the mistake of actually trying to take his election momentum and control of Congress and turn it into history making health care reform. He ended up losing his majority and producing a new half-baked health care system to augment the old half-baked system while creating a political football for all to play with.

    Not so for the Biden Democratic party. Their goal is paying off electoral votes while finding ways to make January 6 a 2022 top line issue for voters. That what running looks like, creating a narrative, not governing.

    “For four years, all that’s been in the news is Trump. The next four years, I want to make sure all the news is the American people. I’m tired of talking about Trump,” Biden said during a campaign appearance at a CNN town hall tongue bath, albeit a month into his term as president not candidate. But while Biden takes pains to refer to Trump as “the former guy” or “the previous administration” the attention Trump gets from Congress and the media, coupled with Biden’s lack of action, keeps the whole machine in campaign mode and that always requires a villian, an opponent, and that’s Trump. Dems want to run against Trump whether he is or is not ever again a candidate.

    We need more than that, you even told us so Joe. Remember during the campaign, Joe, when you promised to “crush” the virus the day you took office? We’re quarantining until our skin becomes translucent for lack of sunlight. Our national symbol is Karen telling someone they need to wear a yellow hazmat suit to Safeway or they’ll have her kid’s blood on their hands. An America with its schools closed, its people out of work due to government decree, its worker’s economy weezing, its faith in itself low, an America where no one believes anything is true anymore and the president is just puddling along playing Mario Kart while settling political debts? Joe, you’ve been in office for six weeks, close to half of those all-important First 100 Days you talked about during the campaign.

    Like about half the country, I didn’t vote for Biden, but like all of the country I live here. Unlike some Democrats, who for example realized lockdowns were a useful tool in destroying the economy that was leading to Trump’s re-election, I do not want to see further suffering for partisan gain. If a Democrat can solve some of our problems, I celebrate that. So get started. Fix something. We’re bleeding out here, Joe.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • No Nuclear Iran; Try Again with the Accord

    February 27, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Iran, Syria, Trump, Yemen


     (This article ran originally on The American Conservative a week ago, pre-Syria, though I just posted it today here on the blog. It appears Biden didn’t read my advice…)

    As the new administration drags itself into the muck of Obama political cosplay-replay (everything but Joe in blackface) one leftover bit of foreign policy does really deserves a second life: the Iran Nuclear Accords. The events and situations which made steps toward peace a good idea in 2015 make it an even better idea in 2021.

    The United States and Iran have an opportunity to end decades of outright hostility that haven’t produced the right results for either side. The Nuclear Accord would bind the two nations to years of engagement and leave open the door open to a far fuller relationship. Even under minimum standards, the accord would lower the temperature across the Middle East.

    For roughly the last six decades the U.S.-Iranian relationship has been hostile, antagonistic, unproductive, and violent. Untangling all this requires small steps; the Accord may be one of them.

    Begin in 1953 when the CIA helped oust Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh made the mistake of trying to nationalize Iran’s oil industry, then largely controlled by the U.S. and the U.K. Washington installed a puppet leader worthy of the sleaziest of banana republics, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Washington lapped up the Shah’s oil like a hobo who scored a bottle of the good stuff and, in return, sold him the modern weapons he fetishized. Through the 1970s, the U.S. also supplied more nuclear fuel and reactor technology to Iran to build on Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” initiative, which had kicked off Iran’s nuclear program in 1957.

    Fast forward to 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile to seize power through the Islamic Revolution. Iranian “students” channeled decades of rage into a takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran. In an event that few Americans of a certain age are likely to forget, 52 American staffers were held hostage there for some 15 months. In retaliation, the U.S. would, among other things, assist Saddam Hussein in his war with Iran in the 1980s, and in 1988, an American guided missile cruiser in the Persian Gulf would by “accident” shoot down a civilian Iran Air flight, killing all 290 people on board. In 2003, when Iran reached out to Washington following American military successes in Afghanistan, George W. Bush pooed foreign policy the bed, declaring that country part of the “Axis of Evil.”

    Iran responded with a Shiite insurgency against the United States in Iraq. In tit-for-tat fashion, U.S. forces raided an Iranian diplomatic office there and arrested several staffers. The U.S. and Israel gutted Iran’s nuclear program with malware. Washington imposed economic sanctions on the country and its crucial energy production sector. Iran won the U.S.-Iraq War and today runs Iraq as a client state. Under the Trump administration the U.S. killed Iranian general and national hero Qasem Soleimani (the Iranians responded with a missle attack on an American base in Iraq), grew even closer to Iranian enemies Israel and Saudi Arabia, fashioned peace accords with various Iranian rivals, former friends, and Gulf neighbors, and walked away from the 2015 Nuclear Accord.

     

    The current sum of this ugly history is Iran remains isolated globally. At the same time, Iran is in many ways an even more stronger regional power than it was a few years ago. The U.S. eliminated Iran’s border enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and handed the Iraqi oil reserves and pipeline pathway to the sea to Tehran. While the U.S.-Iran proxy war is over in Iraq, it continues in Yemen and Syria; holding the U.S. in place counts as a win for Iran.

    And it’s six years later and the same folks are still in power in Tehran and not going away. Iran is probably the most stable Muslim nation in the Middle East. It has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically, religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, the country has nonetheless experienced a series of increasingly democratic electoral transitions since the 1979 revolution. Most significantly, unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one.

    And accord or no accord, Iran remains a nuclear threshold state, a very powerful position nearly akin (and in some ways better) than actually having the Bomb. A threshold state holds most or all of the technology and materials needed to make a weapon, but chooses not to take the final steps. Dozens of nations exist in some version of that state, from South Korea to Saudi Arabia. Just exactly how close a country is at any given moment to having a working nuclear weapon is called “breakout time.”

    If Iran were to get too close, with too short a breakout time, or actually went nuclear, a devastating attack by Israel and/or the United States would be inevitabile. The Israelis destroyed Saddam’s program, as they did Syria’s.  The cyberwar attack on Iran’s nuclear centrifuges was a clear warning shot to back away from the fire, and a clear message (like the drone killing of Soleimani) that the West has tools beyond what you do. There are limits to this game, it all says, best you understand them. Call it a terrible game of chicken (Iran recently increased the purity of its uranium enrichment and threatens additional steps) and nobody really wins much, but one in which all the players involved always know who has to blink first.

    Iran knows while it cannot get too strong it also cannot become too weak. The example of Qaddafi’s Libya being destroyed after he voluntarily gave up his nuclear ambitions, never mind what happened to a non-nuclear Saddam, are all too clear. So think of the 2015 Obama Nuclear Accord as turning the nuclear dial down from 7 to 6, but nothing much more. There was no mechanism in the agreement to denuclearize and neither side intended it to do so. If a new Accord is signed with the same text as the old one Iran will slowly move from its desired current two- to three-month breakout time to a year or more. Iran doesn’t have nukes now, it would not have nukes if there were no accord, and it won’t have nukes with the accord. In other words, the agreement will eliminate weapons of mass destruction that never existed.

    So why bother? Because there are issues far beyond Iranian breakout time that need the world’s attention and a new accord would be the start of the start. It would bind the two nations to years of engagement and leave the door open to a far fuller relationship. It’s how essential diplomacy works. The goal is not to defeat an enemy, find quick fixes, or solve every bilateral issue. The goal is to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution to a specific problem. Then on to the next if possible. And for those who don’t yet see the other gorilla in the room, almost all of the above applies to North Korea, except that they managed to actually go nuclear while the U.S. was distracted by its global war on terrorism.

     

    The passage of the last few years, which despite all the incidents, of relative peace between Iran and the U.S. implies a growing maturity in Tehran that suggests it may be ready for a new accord. When I was in Iran a few years ago, the one consistent takeaway from everyone I met with was a failure to understand the role of domestic politics on U.S. foreign policy. There was little sense of the powerful role U.S. domestic politics played in moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, faint awareness of the influence of the evangelical voting bloc. Instead, Washington’s actions are evidence of… everything. Iran is a nation under attack. Zionist banks control the media. There is a dictatorship of the United Nations, Hollywood, and the International Monetary Fund.

    But the Iranian reaction has sharpened (maybe dulled is a better word) to the point where they maybe — may be — ready to work within the complicated triangle of U.S. domestic policy, U.S. foreign policy, and their own needs for a status quo in the Gulf which would allow some lifting of sanctions. The Iranians did not overreact to the Jerusalem move. They did not press against the tender edges of the accord, when it was in place or not. They did not rise to the constant bait the Trump administration placed in front of them. They waited. They waited for Trump to leave office, they seemingly understood America’s motives are more complex then once thought, they showed they are taking steps toward working inside the current geopolitical system by not seeking to muck it up.

    It is time to talk. People from the Iranian foreign ministry and former diplomats spoke to me of a deep frustration over having no Americans to talk to, unsure why more than 40 years after the Revolution the United States still questions the stability of Iran’s complex democratic theocracy. The anger from Washington, one older diplomat said, was like a phantom itch that people who have lost limbs sometimes experience, left from some past, stuck in the present, an itch there is no way to scratch. “Do you want this to all fail?” he asked, sweeping the room with his arm. “The Americans everywhere seem to have quit trying.”

    It is time to try again. Reviving the Nuclear Accord is the place to start.

     

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Jeffersonian or Springsteenian Democracy?

    February 23, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    That Super Bowl commercial could have been so much worse. 

     

    “This is Bruce ‘Born to Run’ Springsteen, and when I’m driving down Thunder Road in my Pink Cadillac listening to some Radio Nowhere looking for a Red Headed Woman, I know these aren’t my Glory Days any more. So it ain’t no sin to be glad for Cialis. Come on up for The Rising!”

     

    Or imagine Springsteen promoting a reverse mortgage, or some prescription drug with an X and Z in its name, ending with Bruce saying “Check with your doctor, and tell ’em the Boss sent ya.”

     

    I can forgive Bruce for recycling footage and the same damn clothes from his Western Stars movie in that Super Bowl commercial. I’ll give him a pass for the faux accent which no one in New Jersey, or maybe anywhere in earth orbit, actually sounds like. I’ll even forgive his semi-annoyed tone (“I’ve told you people all this before but I guess I gotta go over it one more time.”) And no worries about whether Bruce sold out or not. Of course he did. He has always been clear (see his autobiography and Broadway show) that he is mostly an actor playing a character called “Bruce Springsteen.”

     

    What I can’t overlook is Bruce is just wrong. The answer does not lie in Americans reaching the middle, as Bruce sternly instructs in his infomercial, but respecting the end points on either side as valid positions.

     

    Let’s start with the Boss himself. Despite all the guff shoveled around the media about Bruce avoiding politics for so long, that has never been the case. Very early in his career Springsteen appeared at the No Nukes concerts. Not the “let’s have some nuclear power plants but not too many” concert. His opposition to the Vietnam War grew to opposing America’s jingoistic wars broadly. His stance on economic inequality is the cornerstone of his songbook — think Nebraska and Ghosts of Tom Joad. He supported BLM before it had its own initials; remember American Skin (41 Shots) from 2001?

     

    Bruce has also always been about partisan politics, scolding the Reagan administration throughout the entire Born in the USA album, and actively campaigning for four Democratic presidential candidates. He even joked-not joked about moving to Australia if Trump was re-elected.

     

    A guy who calls himself The Boss has never been about seeking the middle, as he says is our goal in his commercial. He has always taken positions, proudly and clearly. And that is more than OK, it is what America should be about.

     

    The Founders made clearer than a ringing Clarence Clemons sax solo vigorous debate was critical to their vision of a democracy. They baked that into the Constitution via the First Amendment, ensuring free speech and the right to assemble. And no middle ground there — it says “Congress shall make no law…” and with narrow exceptions the Supreme Court has kept it that way for a couple of hundred years.

     

    The Founders had no problem with compromise when that seemed the best they could do; in the extreme they even bargained enslaved human beings into being counted as only 3/5 of a white man. But the thrust was never toward a goal of 50-50, a simplistic Springsteenian middle ground instead of the balanced Jeffersonian one. The founding documents gave equal powers to very unequal states. The whole sloppy mess of democracy is full of 2/3 of this and majority that.

     

    There would come very different ideas on once established things like whether women could vote. But after a robust process women got the vote, an extreme position. There was no meeting in the middle, say granting women a partial vote, or only letting them vote in national elections. The key is the mass of Americans accepted the result, and the ladies getting the vote seems to have worked out for us all.

     

    When we try to meet in the middle we usually end up with most people unhappy. In Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court tried to hit some theorectical middle in granting nearly unfettered abortion rights in the first trimester, giving the states more decision making for the second, and leaving third trimester abortions as the very difficult decision they are. The results were that from the instant the opinion was issued one side demanded even freer access to abortion while the other tried to make access difficult at every step. Roe is settled law but not a settled issue.

     

    Contrast that with the decision by the Court to allow same-sex marriage. One side of that debate just plain lost, and the country moved on to the sideshow of arguing about baking cakes for the receptions. Meh.

     

    What is missing today in the majority of our Red-Blue is neither side understands the process. The goal is no longer to debate and resolve and move on. Today there is little respect for the other side and no empathy, just contempt and disgust. Their opinion is not only wrong, it is insane, dangerous, bonkers, a literal threat to our survival as a nation. How many times did we hear about the end of the rule of law, the end of democracy, fascism via racism, and that the Reichstag was burning during the Trump years?

     

    More than anyone’s ideas being wrong, we see him or her as a horrible person just for holding those ideas. The goal today is not to beat the other idea on the playing field. It is to cancel the speaker, deplatform him, hunt him down, demonize him, make it so he can’t find a job, burn his books, smite him with Terms of Service, eliminate his ideas if not the speaker himself. Or maybe impeach him as a private citizen, strip away his right to run for future office, force him out of his own house in Mar-a-Lago, and I don’t know, hear the lamentations of his women. The middle ground is a killing field.

     

    We end up believing that accepting the results of an election is optional if our candidate loses. We take “credible accusation” as a new standard, but only of course when it produces our desired results. Doxxing someone online or assaulting them in a restaurant is justified if he commits thoughtcrime. It has gotten to the point where even journalists have joined the scolds and censors to crusade against the First Amendment today to silence an opposing view without a thought to what will happen tomorrow to their own ideas when the wind shifts.

     

    So Bruce, would you take another crack at this commercial? You can keep the same B-roll images, even that kinda silly cowboy cosplay outfit (would a 20-year-old you have worn that into a seaside Jersey bar?) but let’s rewrite the script:

     

    “We demand diversity now in everything but thought and don’t see the irony. We’re in danger of losing what we strived and fought for, respect for different opinions. Don’t work toward the middle. Who has risked everything for a half-baked compromise? Anyone ever washed a rental car? No, you think hard, and you stake out a position, knowing the other guy is doing the same. Then you talk it out, you argue, you stomp your feet, write Op-Eds, and organize protests. You don’t repress speech you disagree with, you listen to it, then counter its ideas with better ones.

     

    “Then you turn it over to the wise tools the Founders granted us. They differ from issue to issue. So an election, or a Senate vote, or a court decision. And then you accept that outcome with neither celebration nor triumph and you respect those whose ideas didn’t make it. That’s our common ground.

     

    “It’s not about trying to all think the same way. It is about grasping for a higher rung because we don’t. We all live in one country and we all in the end want a life where we can care for family, do honest work, and join in this prayer for our freedom. The messy, awkward, slow way forward is well-marked for us.

     

    “Also, please buy this Jeep. Patty’s on me to put in a new pool at home before spring.”

     

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Incitement is the New Terrorism

    February 15, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Impeachment, Post-Constitution America

    You can only make up your own definition of “incitement” in the movies and at presidential impeachment trials. Otherwise the actual law is going to have to do.

    The picture is becoming clearer now: 1/6 will be sold to frightened Americans as a new 9/11, the prime mover for a whole new range of “crimes.” Incitement will become this generation’s version of “material support to terrorism,” meaning the complex legal definition will be massaged in the name of safety so that it will become a not-real crime based on the flexibility of a word that will mean whatever the Dems/MSM/FBI want it to mean in a particular scenario.

    So the kid in his bedroom chatting online will be talking to a Fed pretending to be a white supremacist instead of pretending to be ISIS. The kid’s arrest for incitement (those social media messages supposedly about white supremacy) will be played across the news and, like post-9/11, add fuel to the fires calling for more censorship, more surveillance, more arrests. It is literally the exact playbook from 2001.

    Only better. The upgrade to the old playbook is that incitement scales well. So instead of just being pointed at naive kids online, it can be a death ray aimed at a conservative writer, a Congressperson, anyone with a platform. It is a way to eliminate an opinion, take out a rival, even impeach a president. That is why incitement is not aimed at stopping violence but alongside big tech censorship, a tool aimed at thought, at unpopular ideologies, a tool to crush free speech. All in the name of preserving democracy.

    What stands in the way is current law, which following the evolution of free speech over the decades, has created increasingly specifics test on when speech becomes such a danger it must be stopped. And there’s a lot more to it than just that old bit about not being allowed to shout fire in a crowded theatre.
    From its earliest days concerns existed about the interplay between the 1A and the ability of  speech to incite violence to the point where words should be censored or criminalized. It sounds easy to sort out, until you consider almost any political viewpoint, passionately expressed, has the potential to incite. But a democracy can’t exactly lock up everyone who says aloud “abortion is murder” or accuses the president of murdering young boys sent into an unwanted war. Speech which inspires, motivates, stirs up the blood is not incitement, and in fact is an important part of a rugged democracy. Can every speaker be held responsible for what people who hear him talk do later? A finer line was needed.
    The Fire! quote from the Supreme Court decision in Schenck v. United States is often cited as justification for limiting free speech. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger.”

    Words in these decisions have hyper-specific legal meanings, often defined through multiple cases, which is why simply Googling a term and passing judgment on its vernacular via Twitter usually is wrong. The Fire! line is actually a kind of inaccurate shorthand. The full decision says the First Amendment doesn’t protect speech that meets three conditions: 1) the speech must be demonstrably false; 2) it must be likely to cause real harm, not just offense or hurt feelings, and 3) must do so immediately.

    But Schenck was what jurists call bad law, in that it sought to use the Espionage Act against a Socialist pamphleteer opposing WWI to stop free speech, not protect it. The case was eventually overturned, and Holmes’ statement is better understood not as a 21st century test but to simply mean that while the First Amendment is not absolute, restrictions on speech should be narrow and limited. It would be for the later case of Brandenburg v. Ohio to refine the modern standard for restricting speech.

    Brandenburg v. Ohio (Clarence Brandenburg was an Ohio KKK leader who used the N-word with malice) precludes speech from being sanctioned as incitement to violence unless 1) the speech explicitly or implicitly encouraged the use of violence or lawless action; 2) the speaker intends their speech will result in the use of violence or lawless action, and 3) the imminent use of violence or lawless action is the likely result of the speech, a more specific definition than in Schenck. Brandenburg is the Supreme Court’s final statement to date on what government may do about speech that seeks to incite others to lawless action. It was intended to resolve the debate between those who urge greater control of speech and those who favor as much speech as possible before relying on the marketplace of ideas to sort things out.

    Intent as included in Brandenburg is purposely hard to prove. A hostile reaction of a crowd does not automatically transform protected speech into incitement. Listeners’ reaction to speech is thus not alone a basis for regulation, or for taking an enforcement action against a speaker. The speaker had to clearly want to, and succeed in, causing some specific violent act. The reliance on intent exposes the danger of the 1A not applying to corporate censors. Twitter suppressed the speech of 70,000 users simply for retweeting material with “the potential to lead to offline harm” under its Orwellian named Civic Integrity Policy, no intent required. They made up their own version of the law.

    The law is similar for (incitement to) sedition, seeking to overthrow the U.S. government by force. It is intimately tied to the concept of free speech in that any true attempt at overthrow, as well as any legitimate criticism of the government, will include persuasion and stirring up of crowds. The line between criticizing the government and organizing for it to be overthrown is a critical juncture in a democracy. Current law requires the government prove someone conspired to use force. Simply advocating broadly for the use of violence is not the same thing as violence and in most cases is protected as free speech. For example, suggesting the need for revolution “by any means necessary” is unlikely to be seen as conspiracy to overthrow the government by force. But actively planning such an action (distributing guns, working out the logistics, actively opposing lawful authority, etc.) could be considered sedition.

    A 1982 case, Claiborne v. NAACP, not only made clear the Court’s strict standards on blocking speech for incitement but also how such suppression can strike any view, not just conservative ones. In the 1982 Claiborne v. NAACP the Court ruled NAACP civil rights leaders were not responsible for a crowd which, after hearing them speak, burned down a white man’s hardware store. The state of Mississippi had wanted to charge the NAACP leaders with incitement on the grounds their speeches urging a boycott of white-owned stores incited their followers to burn down a store. The state’s argument was that the NAACP leaders knew their inflammatory rhetoric would drive the crowd to violence.

    The Supreme Court rejected that argument, explaining that free speech will die if people are held responsible not for their own violent acts but for those committed by others who heard them speak and were motivated in the name of that cause. The Court wrote “there is no evidence — apart from the speeches themselves that [the NAACP leader] authorized, ratified, or directly threatened acts of violence… To impose liability without a finding that the NAACP authorized — either actually or apparently — or ratified unlawful conduct would impermissibly burden the rights of political association that are protected by the First Amendment.” They concluded instead the NAACP “through exercise of their First Amendment rights of speech, assembly, association, and petition, rather than through riot or revolution, sought to bring about political, social, and economic change.”

     

    All of this may soon change, however. Joe Biden and the Democratic Congress are actively considering new laws (“Patriot Act 2.0”) against domestic terrorism which will likely draw from and enlarge the current definitions of incitement and sedition, with the Trump impeachment as their philosophical touchstone. The new laws may seek to define beliefs such as “whites are a superior race” not as bad science or an unsavory opinion but as an actual threat, an illegal thought. Proposals include prohibiting people with such beliefs from joining the military or law enforcement.

    The groundwork is already in place. Don’t forget Biden often claims credit for writing the original Patriot Act. The MSM has been priming Americans to believe they have too many rights for their own safety. The NYT is opening soliciting stories about “right wing extremism” in the military.

    It is necessary to say it again. America at present, on paper at least, legally holds apart from some very narrow exceptions free speech exists independent of the content of that speech. This is one of the most fundamental precepts of our democracy. There is no need for protection for things people agree with, things that are not challenging or debatable or offensive. Free speech is not needed to discuss the weather or sports. The true tests for a democracy come at the edges, not in the middle.

     

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Failing to Make Sense of COVIDiocy

    February 8, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: Democracy

    The essence of science is asking questions, and then accepting the empirical answers no matter what conclusion they support. Superstition is where belief drives people to do silly things without evidence. Which method works better for authoritarians and bullies? The one driving America’s COVID response.

    Some 11 months into COVID so little makes sense. Masks have become a political talisman, health policy a way to enhance certain candidates and settle political scores. False dichotomies such as “lives or money” cloud people’s ability to make thoughtful decisions. Instead of working together we fear one another as carriers. The urgency to panic has not been replaced by an equivalent urgency to vaccinate. Meanwhile, belief and not science keeps us locked down and staying at home with long term economic consequences we don’t understand.

    Precautions in general seem to vary widely. In New York, the more expensive the store, the deeper into COVIDiocy they are. High end retailers have someone at the door scolding the unmasked, demanding hand sanitizing, and gleefully enforcing social distancing. Bottom feeders among the economy, such as NYC’s sinkholes of hope the bodegas, have few if any restrictions, the Yemeni cashier screaming something in bad Spanish at the project kids shoplifting Ding Dongs, his mask tucked under his chin.

    The highest expression of COVIDiocy here in NYC are the museums, all of which converted to a branch of The Museum of White Guilt during the Trump years, with special exhibits of a less-known artist of color, or a trans-something featurette. The overdone it award for COVIDiocy goes to the Jewish Museum. Enforced by guards whose behavior would make an exhibit on fascism on its own, they cling to the 25 percent of capacity rule even though their rooms are large with 20 foot ceilings. A guard ordered me to wear my coat, tie it around my waist, or leave. Asked how my coat style was COVID-related, he said “those are are only options.” A fellow patron, parka firmly wrapped waistward, suggested it was so I would not knock things over, but anything that small was encased and most of the items on display were fixed to the walls. As I walked toward one patron he extended his arms in front of him, zombie-like, to indicate his personal Cone of COVID safety.

    The “capacity” of a public space is based on fire regulations, a computation of how many people can safely get out of a space in a fire. It seems to have little to do with air volume, high or low ceilings, or how air is handled inside the space, things that might be directly relevant to COVID. Wouldn’t how far people stand apart depend on, literally, which way the wind is blowing? I have been unable to find anything explaining why 25 percent capacity was chosen; why not 18 or 27 or 41.5 percent for COVID? It seems to be an arbitrary number.

    But while the museums with their open spaces and high ceilings are obsessive about only allowing in guests to 25 percent capacity, there are no such rules on the subway some may take to get there. The trains run with whatever number of people decide to board. There are staff to mop the floors in defense of a largely airborne disease but none to disperse passengers among cars. It is unclear science is in charge instead of the institutional COVID fascists, enjoying their authority.

     

    You’d think the people, left to their own, would do be better at being human. In my apartment house of some 300 units there are people who simply have not left their boxes for the last ten months out of fear. They have everything delivered, and tip the maintenance people to carry it to the hallway outside their door. The COVID trolls then emerge, grab their groceries, and retreat inside, presumably to bleach their boxes of raisin bran. Then there are a few, meerkat-like, who venture out with caution. One uses paper towels to open the dryer door in the common laundry room.

    Many have given up speaking to anyone, seeing each of us passing in the halls as a potential Angel of Death, my massive, Caucasian nose ready to inject the virus into their souls. We are all adversaries now, gladiators in a viral fight to the death. As Biden’s senior adviser on COVID said, even our children are “like mosquitos carrying a tropical disease.” COVID is a good disease for such paranoia, very Twilight Zoney in how you can have it and not know it, spreading death while symptomless yourself.

    Most people around here do wear their masks, but even there it all makes no sense. You’ll see “masks” made by stretching a T-shirt over one’s nose. Next to him will be a guy with a respirator suitable for a Chernobyl picnic. In between are fresh surgical masks and stained paper ones likely in week four of a longer run. Some masks fit well, most have gaps on the sides where impure air is exhaled with impunity. Dudes with beards and unsealed masks. Old ladies with cobbled-together spacesuits, usually plastic gloves stolen from the produce aisle, a mask, a face shield, sometimes sunglasses, maybe a raincoat. One neighborhood family has matching full-face respirators for mom, dad, and two small kids and they walk around looking like characters out of some 1950s “Our Friend the Atom!” educational film. The vast army of homeless are unmasked, they and their heaps of trash and old clothes breeding grounds for hepatitis strains to make COVID seem like candy corn. Nothing is done with them, they just molt on the sidewalks, because homelessness is decriminalized and the cops ignore them.

    At the gym a mask is required when on the elliptical but not in the pool, though the same people are exhaling equally in both places. The pool is open but the shower is not, though it’s the same over-chlorinated water. An enclosed jumble shack filled with people built on the sidewalk counts as safe (outdoor) dining while four feet away indoor dining is prohibited under literal threat of death. A table on the sidewalk is safe without a mask but walking past that table without a mask calls forth a Mask Karen to chide you (a Karen complaining about someone taking her parking space is the subject of national mockery while a Karen telling people to put masks on at the beach is a national hero.)

    Placing all efforts in making people wear something symbolic, like an old soiled mask, and little to no effort into enforcing the efficiency of those masks (such as handing out fresh, clean ones everywhere) means the whole of effort is politics. The appearance of action without action. Much like 9/11 security theatre was.

    I have never experienced a crisis where the media has worked so hard to convince people there is a crisis. The MSM almost gleefully keeps a running on-screen tab of deaths, calculating each one with the care of another mailed in Blue vote on election night. The cliched stories are blankets over our lives. The (usually Republican) guy who, unmasked, did something anti-COVID and now has it. The latest celebrity to earn her liberal merit badge by testing positive. The Facebook sagas of people whose brother’s neighbor’s cousin’s kid tested positive and how that has devastated the family for the three days he felt like he had the flu. Lots of stories of couples married for decades denied a last visit for safety’s sake. Everyone is some sort of victim.

     

    It equally makes no sense why vaccinating Americans is not a 24/7 urgent national task. Of the vaccine doses delivered, only an estimated (why doesn’t anyone know?) one third have been used. Here in NYC, one of the supposed epicenters of COVID, 2020 finished with less than half of the available vaccine being used. We endured all of the last ten months to let vaccine doses spoil in the freezer? New York issues dire warnings to the elderly (58 percent of all COVID deaths are to people age 75 and older) but no vaccines. Why, unlike March, isn’t the National Guard out, this time with needles? Where are the Navy hospital ships, once docked in NY and LA harbors, providing 24/7 vaccinations?

    No one seems to know. No one seems to be asking for details. The same voices which screamed about not having enough ventilators and PPE and ICU space are now quiet. Who is worthy of living is a public decision of massive scale being made in absolute secrecy. Who gets the vaccine in NYC is in the hands of the Taskforce on Racial Equity and Inclusion, chaired by the mayor’s wife, not a medical doctor. The goal is to ensure “hard hit” areas get the civilian shots first. But somehow her list of hard hit areas skipped the hardest hit, Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jews, who refused to follow the mayor’s dictates in early COVID days. Nothing says compassion in a crisis like a little political score settling.

     

    Why is it so hard to know what is going on in other places? It seems important to know more about Sweden, which took a lite approach to lockdown. Most MSM has concluded Sweden failed and needs to lockdown just like us as contrition. But when looking at worldwide COVID deaths per 100,000 Sweden does not make the Top 10 worst. Within Europe, the Swedish deaths per 100,000 are below other nations who had resorted to more draconian societal measures.

    So did Sweden fail? There are still many Swedes alive and their society suffered minimal impact. Would a lockdown lower the deaths in Sweden? We could benefit from asking the same sorts of questions about Florida and New York. Despite its tougher than the rest lockdowns the death per 100k rate in New York is double laissez faire Florida with its mass of elderly. North Dakota’s rate is almost identical to Connecticut’s, though we universally blame one on rednecks too dumb for science and don’t talk about the other. Is anyone even trying to weigh deaths per 100k against the secondary damage of lockdowns, the suicides, increased drug use, economic problems, etc., or is it that we simply “believe” in something based on Red or Blue and defend it to the last mask?

    Depend on the science, people say, then they ignore it. A recent study via Stanford actually did look at non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) for controlling the spread of COVID-19, such as mandatory stay-at-home and business closures, across ten countries. The included Sweden and South Korea, which did not institute draconian measures such as destroying the American economy. They concluded (by science!) lockdowns and the like had “no clear, significant beneficial effect on case growth in any country.” In fact, their study suggested in some places lockdowns of business made COVID spread worse, as people concentrated in greater numbers in businesses which were allowed to open.

    Of course someone will Google up a conflicting study, but the lack of discussion around these issues is appalling. The success of the MSM in politicizing such debate, as they did with the Iraq War when basic questions were seen as disloyal and treasonous, has meant we proceed into darkness without the light of science. It was seen as a necessary step to defeat Trump, but he is now gone and we need to start making sense.

     

    Nearly the whole of the COVID response seems to make little sense. Distancing people with a communicable airborne disease is not a bad starting point, but what happened was a hyper-politicization of the idea, with everyone allowed to make up their own variations, with the wrong people often in charge, until the propagandists boiled it all down to an unquestionable dichotomy of “money versus lives.” This replaces earlier, similar mantras like “Lockdown or die,” or “Obey Fauci or die.”

    Why do we care so much about bullying people in stores and not about doing the things which without question save lives? COVID is indeed real. But for the most part over- and somehow now under- reaction seems as dangerous as the virus. Making people afraid is always how governments grow their power; frightened people usually demand someone exert more control over them. Rules that make little sense grossly enforced by bullies is great training for fascism. That may well be COVID’s legacy.

    Or maybe this. In New York, citing COVID, Governor Andrew Cuomo by decree canceled six special elections to favor his political allies, canceled the presidential primary to avoid embarrassing Joe Biden with too many Bernie protest votes, and expanded his budgetary powers. He determined who and when people would work, go to school, how they would spend their free time. He held life-and-death vaccine decisions in his own hands. His power to detain without trial sick people is a state congress vote away.

    The solution currently under consideration is to count antibodies differently, under a new standard likely to produce a dramatically lower “positive” total. The new standard was unveiled by the WHO the same day Biden had the U.S. rejoin the organization, along with the healthy U.S. monetary contribution.

    I am so glad we beat back fascism. Imagine what that would have been like!

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Social Media’s Threat to Free Speech is Real

    January 30, 2021 // 0 Comments

    Tags: , , , , ,
    Posted in: Post-Constitution America

    The interplay between the First Amendment and corporations like Twitter, Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook is the most significant challenge to free speech in our lifetimes. Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections is just another place that sells stuff is to pretend the role of debate in a free society is outdated.

    From the day the Founders wrote the 1A until very recently no entity existed that could censor at scale other than the government. It was difficult for one company, never mind one man, to silence an idea or promote a false story in America, never mind the entire world. That was the stuff of Bond villains.

    The arrival of global technology controlled by mega-corporations like Twitter brought first the ability the control speech and soon after the willingness. The rules are their rules, so we see the permanent banning of a president for whom some 70 million Americans voted from tweeting to his 88 million followers (ironically the courts earlier claimed it was unconstitutional for the president to block those who wanted to follow him.) Meanwhile the same censors allowed the Iranian and Chinese governments (along with the president’s critics) to speak freely. For these companies violence in one form is a threat to democracy while similar violence is valorized under a different color flag.

     

    The year 2020 also saw the arrival of a new tactic by global media, sending a story down the memory hole to influence an election. The contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop, which strongly suggest illegal behavior on his part and unethical behavior by his father the president, were purposefully and effectively kept from the majority of voters. It was no longer for a voter to agree or disagree, it was now know and judge yourself or remain ignorant and just vote anyway.

    Try an experiment. Google “Peter Van Buren” with the quotes. Most of you will see on the first page of results articles I wrote four years ago for outlets like The Nation and Salon. Almost none of you will see the scores of columns I wrote for The American Conservative over the past four years. Google buries them.

    The ability of a handful of people nobody voted for to control the mass of public discourse has never been clearer. It represents a stunning centralization of power. It is this power which negates the argument of “why not start your own web forum.” Someone did until Amazon withdrew its server support, and Apple and Google banned the Parler app.

    The same thing happened to The Daily Stormer, driven offline through a coordinated effort by tech companies, and 8Chan, deplatformed by Cloudflare. Amazon partner GoDaddy deplatformed the world’s largest gun forum AR15. Tech giants have also killed off local newspapers and other forums by gobbling up ad revenues. The companies are not, in @jack’s words, “one small part of the larger public conversation.”

    The tech companies’ logic in destroying Parler was particularly evil – either start censoring like we do (“moderation”) or we shut you down. Parler allowing ideas and people banned by the others is what brought its demise. Amazon, et al, brought their power to censor to another company. The tech companies also said while Section 230 says we are not publishers, we just provide the platform, if Parler did not exercise editorial control to tech’s satisfaction it was finished. Even if Parler comes back online it will live only at the pleasure of the powerful.

    Since democracy was created it has required a public forum, from the Acropolis to the town square on down. That place exists today, for better or worse, across global media. It is this seriousness of the threat to free speech that requires us to move beyond platitudes like “it’s not a violation of free speech, just a breach of the terms of service!” People once said “I’d like to help you vote ladies, but the Constitution specifically refers to men, my hands are tied.” That’s the side of history some are standing on.

     

    This new reality must be the starting point, not the end point of discussions on the First Amendment and global media. Facebook, et al, have evolved into something new which can reach beyond their own corporate borders, beyond the idea of a company that just sells soap or cereal. Never mind being beyond the vision of the Founders when they wrote the 1A, it is hard to imagine Thomas Jefferson endorsing having a college dropout determine what the president can say to millions of Americans. The magic game play of words – it’s a company so it does not matter – is no longer enough to save us from drowning.

    Tech companies currently work in casual consultation with one another, taking turns being the first to ban something so the others can follow. The next step is when a decision by one company ripples instantly across to the others, and then down to their contractors and supplies as a requirement to continue business. The decision by AirBnB to ban users for their political stance could cross platforms automatically so that same person could not fly, use a credit card, etc., essentially a non-person unable to participate in society beyond taking a walk. And why not fully automate the task, destroying people who use a certain hashtag, or like an offending tweet? Perhaps create a youth organization called Twitter Jugend to watch over media 24/7 and report dangerous ideas? A nation of high school hall monitors.

    Consider linkages to the surveillance technology we idolize when it helps arrest the “right” people. So with the Capitol riots we fetishize how cell phone data was used to place people on site, coupled with facial recognition run against images pulled off social media. Throw in the calls from the media for people to turn in friends and neighbors to the FBI, alongside amateur efforts across Twitter and even Bumble to “out” participants. The goal was to jail people if possible, but most loyalists seemed equally satisfied if they could cause someone to lose their job. Tech is blithely providing these tools to users it approves of, knowing full well how they will be used. Orwellian? Orwell was an amateur.

    There are legal arguments to extend limited 1A protections to social media. Section 230 could be amended. However, given Democrats benefit disproportionately from corporate censorship and current Democratic control of the government, no legislative solution appears likely. Those people care far more for the rights of some of its citizens (trans people seem popular now, it used to be disabled folks) then the most basic right for all the people.

    They rely on the fact it is professional suicide today to defend all speech on principle. It is easy in divided America to claim the struggle against fascism (racism, misogyny, white supremacy, whatever) overrules the old norms. And they think they can control the beast.

    But imagine someone’s views, which today match @jack and Zuck’s, change. Imagine Zuck finds religion and uses all of his resources to ban legal abortion. Consider a change of technology which allows a different company, run by someone who thinks like the MyPillow Guy, replacing Google in dictating what you can read. As one former ACLU director explained “Speech restrictions are like poison gas. They seem like they’re a great weapon when you’ve got your target in sight. But then the wind shifts.”

     

    The election of 2020, when they hid the story of Hunter Biden’s laptop from voters, and the election’s aftermath, when they banned the president and other conservative voices, was the coming-of-age moment, the proof of concept for media giants that they could operate behind the illusion of democracy.

    Hope rests with the Supreme Court expanding the First Amendment to social media, as it did when it grew the 1A to cover all levels of government, down to the hometown mayor, even though the Constitution specifically only mentions Congress. The Court has long acknowledged the flexibility of the 1A in general, expanding it over the years to acts of “speech” as disparate as nudity and advertising. But don’t expect much change any time soon. Landmark decisions on speech, like those on other civil rights, tend to be more evolutionary in line with society’s changes than revolutionary.

    It is sad that many of the same people who quoted that “First they came for…” poem over Trump’s Muslim Ban are now gleefully supporting social media’s censorship of conservative voices. The funny part is both Trump and Twitter claim what they did was for peoples safety. One day people will wake up and realize it doesn’t matter who is doing the censoring, the government or Amazon. It’s all just censoring.

    What a sad little argument “But you violated the terms of service nyah nyah!” is going to be then.

     

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.